SHAFTSBURY -- The Select Board for the Town of Shaftsbury has approved a $2,001,165 for fiscal year 2015.
Down to the wire
Of that total, $1,420,231 will come from taxes, an increase from $1,302,258 in FY14. According to Select Board Chairwoman Karen Mellinger, this will equate to a $.03 increase in the tax rate. Municipal tax rates have not increased in Shaftsbury since 2011, according to Mellinger, who called this budget "a tough one."
Discussions on the budget went down to the wire, with recent news that the hopper the town had been using to spread salt on the sidewalks is "kaput," according to Mellinger. Highway Foreman Terry Stacy was called into the board's Tuesday meeting, which had been rescheduled from its normal Monday time because selectman Carl Korman had been out of the country, to discuss the issue. He said that the broken hopper was causing the salt spreader to use much more salt that expected, but that they should be able to "limp along," for the remainder of the budget year, which lasts until July.
Stacy said the town had an offer to purchase a used sidewalk plow, very similar to the ones used by Bennington and North Bennington, for about $4,000, a substantial discount over the market price. According to Stacy, in conversations with North Bennington Highway Superintendent Norm LeBlanc, LeBlanc had indicated that North Bennington considered it "a steal" when they purchased theirs for $15,000. Selectman Ken Harrington thought that this sounded too good to be true, and Mellinger and Stacy agreed. Stacy said he was going to look at the machine, which includes the blade, snow blower, and salter, sometime this week.
If it does turn out to be too good to be true, Harrington had looked into purchasing a new plastic hopper for the tractor the town currently uses. Stacy's biggest concern was the damage the salt had already done to the tractor, and that that would need to be replaced soon as well. While the board was in consensus that the used sidewalk plow was the best and least expensive option, they remained skeptical of its price. As such, it was agreed that $5,000 would be appropriated to the highway department, which would then be used to either purchase the sidewalk plow or go toward replacing the tractor.
The discussion then focused on where that money should come from. Mellinger believed that it should be transferred from the fire truck reserve fund, while selectman Tim Scoggins suggested that it instead be taken from the town garage reserve fund. "We don't know when or how much we're going to spend on the garage. We have a better idea of the schedule for the fire truck. We know we missed a year [putting money into the fire truck reserve fund last year]," he said.
"I strongly agree with Tim," said Korman, "There's clearly a public need to have the best equipment for our people, as well as our volunteer fire department. I agree with Tim that with the [cost] for this garage project, if and when the building is actually built, $5,000 is going to be a spit in the ocean."
"We know we can be helpful to the town in a more immediate, and a life-saving way. That takes precedence," said Korman.
Mellinger disagreed. "I think most people have acknowledged that we need a new town garage and until we really start to make a commitment towards setting this money aside we not going to get there. We have a million and a half dollars of equipment that ends up getting rusted out. We just talked about a 2006 truck that the body is rusting out from salt. We don't have a situation where we can easily wash this thing down in the wintertime. What our guys are required to do out in this garage is not fair to them either."
"In the best of all worlds, they'd all get what they need to make a commitment to the garage," said Mellinger. With the board unable to decide where to take the funds from, Mellinger suggested a compromise. "If we cannot agree that one is more important than the other, the town should decide," she said. The board voted to maintain the $75,000 balance in the garage fund and the $40,000 balance in the fire truck fund, and leave it up to the voters to approve or not approve both numbers.
With that matter decided, Korman made a motion to approve the budget, which will be voted on at Shaftsbury's town meeting in March. The vote passed 4-0, as Harrington had to leave part-way through the discussion to deal with a personal emergency. Harrington did say before he left, however, that he supported the budget, despite the slight tax increase, which he had opposed. "I don't see how we can do any different," he said.
Derek Carson can be reached for comment at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @DerekCarsonBB