BENNINGTON >> According to the latest draft budget report released by the Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union, several towns may be able to look forward to tax rate decreases this year.
Chief Financial Officer Rick Pembroke presented the report at a meeting of the full SVSU board on Thursday. Since the SVSU budget committee's last meeting on Dec. 17, Pembroke said his office had been able to remove $960,791 from the budget, which had been projected to increase by $4,827,147, or 26.63 percent. Pembroke said the majority of those savings had come from finding a more cost effective method of providing education for a number of secondary special education students, one of whom alone was projected to cost the district over $400,000. Pembroke, for privacy reasons, could not clarify further on what the school will do with those students instead, although the new budget does include one additional paraeducator position, for $31,000, which could be related.
Pembroke did caution the board that, while that situation ended up working out in their favor, it doesn't mean that two $500,000 special education won't walk in the door tomorrow, evaporating those savings.
Based on the latest SVSU budget, and the latest draft budgets from the individual districts, Pembroke also provided estimates of what tax rates will look like for this year in the SVSU member towns, should nothing change between now and when the rates are finalized. Bennington is projected to see a 4.69 cent decrease per $100 in appraised property value, while Pownal is expected to drop 3.75 cents. Shaftsbury, as it stands will remain effectively level, decreasing less than one cent, while Woodford will go up 2.35 cents. Pembroke said that he has not yet met with the North Bennington Prudential Committee to look at their budget, but if they level fund from last year, which is probably unlikely, they could be looking at a staggering 17.8 cent decrease, which would save $534 for the owner of a $300,000 property in that town. Shaftsbury ID, under that scenario, would see a decrease of about 11.76 cents.
Pembroke said these numbers were more likely to go down than up, especially as some of the districts are still being affected by Act 46 spending growth penalties, which they should be able to get under. Further cuts at the SVSU level are also possible, as board members Fran Kinney, Jim O'Conner, and George Sleeman all requested another week to look over the budget before they can approve it. Kinney was interested in looking more closely at special education, while Sleeman wanted to consider technology costs. Board member Leon Johnson was hesitant to let the SVSU budget process go on too long, as individual districts will need concrete numbers before they can finalize their own budgets, which must be done by the end of this month.