MANCHESTER VILLAGE >> Residents made short work of the business at hand during the Village's annual meeting on Monday, July 11, approving a budget that called for a reduction of $100,000 in spending along with a nine cent tax rate increase.
Village taxes, which are paid in addition to those levied by the town of Manchester, will rise from $1.24 per $100 of assessed property value to $1.335 per $100. The village budget, which was approved unanimously by a voice vote of the 20 residents who attended the annual meeting held at the Courthouse at the corner of Main and Union streets, will decrease from $666,950 to $566,950.
However, the village is also losing a state grant of $175,000 received last year which helped pay for repairs to the Union Street Bridge, resulting in an increase in the percentage of the budget that will have to be borne by village taxpayers. That amount will rise from $393,943 to $416,754 under the new budget, prompting the tax increase.
Brian Knight, the president of Village's board of Trustees, warned that there were more budget pressures building up, and while the trustees had done their best to control the tax rate this year, there may be more tax hikes to come.
"It is becoming increasingly difficult for us to hold the level on taxes," he said near the start of the meeting. "We've been able to do that for the last 3-4 years but this year was very tough. We're just going to have to recognize as we move forward, if we're going to maintain the village and the roads and sidewalks as we want to, we're going to have to recognize it's going to take a little more money."
Some projects, like a repaving of Taconic Street, were delayed for this year. The worst potholes on the street will be patched instead, Knight said, adding that the trustees would try to keep the tax rate to an absolute minimum.
Orland Campbell asked about a $15,600 traffic study/patrolling line item in the highway maintenance portion of the overall budget, which was not part of the prior budget. Knight said it was a response to concerns expressed by residents about cars exceeding the speed limits in places around the Village, citing Union Street, West Road and Main Street in particular. The revenue is a bit of a guess, Knight said, since it represents fines from speeding tickets which could be negotiated downwards or not paid at all.
The town of Manchester and the Village had entered into an experimental study about four months ago where the Village paid for off-duty police officers from the town's police force to enhance enforcement of speed limits for four hours a day, three days a week. The effort yielded 76 tickets for traffic violations, Knight said.
Village officials met again with Police Chief Michael Hall to review the program and decided to renew it, anticipating that the cost of hiring the police officers would be offset by the ticket revenue, he said.
But the actual revenue is hard to anticipate and at the moment the $15,600 figure was the best estimate available, Knight said.
A question was also raised about the jump in health insurance premiums for the town's two highway department employees, with the cost rising from $31,000 during the previous fiscal year to $39,200. That was a figure village officials could not control, said Craig Powers, a resident and the vice-chairman of the village's development review board.
Under Vermont Health Connect, the state's health insurance exchange, municipalities can only buy health insurance from two carriers; Blue Cross/Blue Shield and MVP. Health insurance premiums were increasing across the state from 8 to 15 percent, Powers told the assembled residents.
Several parts of the budget showed significant shifts. Under the highway maintenance budget, which overall, fell from $545,050 to $404,800, the money set aside for purchasing road salt fell from $55,000 to $45,000. Highway resurfacing costs will be budgeted at $69,600 this year, compared to $276,000 the previous year. On the other hand, money set aside for the preservation of stone walls will rise from $7,000 to $30,000.
In response to a question about that, Knight said there were parts of the walls along River Road which needed attention.
"It's one of the things we have to do," he said. "It's part of the beauty of the Village and there's a cost involved."
In other business, Bill Mariano was voted onto the board of trustees to fill out the remaining year on Tom Dyett's term. Dyett is stepping down from the board, Knight said.
Rev. Gordon McClellan will be joining the Village Development Review Board, and Anthony MacLaurin and Renee Waller will be joining the Planning Commission.
Sept. 16, 2016, was the date set for timely payment of Village taxes, by a unanimous voice vote.
The meeting was adjourned by 7:30 p.m., and lasted less than half an hour.