Village approves budget, tax hike
The 75th annual meeting, held in the warmth of the old Bennington County Courthouse at Main and Union streets, resulted in voters passing a budget of $746,813, an increase of $115,000 over last year's spending plan. With $633,813 of that sum to be raised by taxes, the Board of Trustees signed off on a tax rate of 0.1970 cents per $100 of valuation for fiscal 2019.
That marks a rate increase of 0.052 cents, or 35.8 percent, from the fiscal 2018 tax rate of 0.1450.
The budget was the only point of contention in the brief and lightly-attended meeting, with 17 people, 10 of whom were Manchester Village voters, gathered in the bench seating area of the old courthouse.
But contentious it was.
Louise Rivieccio, a Main Street resident, questioned the board of trustees at length why the highway maintenance budget is projected to rise by more than $100,000, calling the increases "astronomical" and "unconscionable."
She questioned why some line items in the budget were based on actual numbers from the busy winter storm season of 2017-18 rather than the previously budgeted numbers, and why others had increased dramatically — for example, the equipment and repairs line item, which grew from $15,000 in fiscal 2018 to a proposed $28,000 in fiscal 2019.
Rivieccio also said that the highway department's aggressive road clearance and salting practices over the winter used too many resources, in labor and road salt.
"There's no traffic at 2 a.m., 3 a.m., 4 a.m. in the Village of Manchester, " she said. "I think it was a big waste. I'm sorry. I'm very, very sorry."
Board of Trustees president Brian Knight replied that the village budget was "not picking numbers out of the air," and defended the work of road foreman Alan Mowrey.
"[Mowrey] is probably one of the best road supervisors in the state. He has enormous pride in this village and not having people stuck," Knight said. "Is he oversealous? Probably. Am I going to sit here and save $5,000 and say don't do it? No."
Knight previously told the Journal that increases in the budget are due to a spate of road work projects, some of which were carried over from the previous year. The moving of the traffic islands across from the Equinox Hotel, for example, accounts for $40,000 of the $119,000 highway surfacing and repair line item in the highway budget for fiscal 2019.
Another resident, however, said he appreciated the level of service provided by the Village's highway crew during the past winter.
"I don't live on a state highway," Richard Moore said, explaining that he doesn't get the benefit of VTrans' plow trucks as Main Street residents do. "I appreciate the village does a more thorough job than the town."
No amendments were offered to the budget, and it passed with two residents opposed.
The Board of Trustees' proposed slate of officers passed unanimously, with Nina Mooney joining the board in place of Andrea Ross, who stepped down.
Voters also approved a tax due date of September 14, with taxes physically due in the office by the end of business that day.
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