Staff: Merge Fire Budgets Before Separation Vote
by Irene Wrenner
August 9, 2021
At the recent public forums on Village/Town Separation, the Unified Manager proposed that Village Staff, Capital and Fire budgets be merged into the Town’s budget for FYE23 and possibly beyond.
Staff presented a chart at Public Forums in early August, revealing a proposal to distribute Village service costs across the entire Town, as in the recently-failed Merger plan.
Selectboard budget talks will begin later this month with goal setting. If included, this merged-budget plan would potentially be implemented whether or not Separation passes at the Village polls in November. The merged-budget plan would move some Village expenses into the Town budget for FY23, and potentially beyond.
Deputy Manager Greg Duggan explained on August 6th that combining such costs now would increase Town taxes in advance of any potential Separation. This would “better prepare [the Town] to absorb that cost, if the Village does Separate.” He did not explain how merging these budgets is a logical step toward Separating the Town and Village, should the Separation vote passes.
Duggan’s explanation echoed Selectboard Member and Village resident Pat Murray’s push in March to “Prep the Town for pain”, as revealed in his text message sent to the former SB chair during a SB meeting.
Staff presented a second chart of how to meet potential rising expenses and equalize tax payments between Village and TOV taxpayers.
In response, a resident in attendance noted that staff omitted the option of using the Town Highway Tax to fund TOV departments. Public Works is the second largest Town expense after Police services. The bulk of its expenses were funded via the Town Highway Tax for more than 100 years until July 1st of this year (FY22 start).
If the TOV and Village each paid for their respective library, fire, recreation/parks, and planning departments, the true costs would be more transparent than combining the payments ― per staff’s merged-budget plan above ― and each district would control the operations of these entities.
Under this proposed merged-budget plan, however, it is not clear which municipality would control the spending, department management, or department identity.
Attendees at the August public forums resisted staff’s merged-budget plan, reminding them that the TOV still has no dedicated representation at joint Selectboard and Trustee meetings, although the Village does; that the Town just voted NO on Merger twice; and that the boards are negotiating a plan to Separate-and-Share certain departments.
Update: At the August 10th Trustee meeting, Village President Andrew Brown said no one has had a conversation about merging the Fire Department budgets with himself or the Village Fire Chief.
He found it “curious and interesting” that this got to the level of being a topic proposed to the public without being run past the Trustees.
8/4/21 & 8/6/21 Public Forums