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School and town officials presented their budget plans at a joint meeting Monday night. Community members got a look at how officials arrive at the numbers they put out for public vote. (Derek Carson)
School and town officials presented their budget plans at a joint meeting Monday night. Community members got a look at how officials arrive at the numbers
School and town officials presented their budget plans at a joint meeting Monday night. Community members got a look at how officials arrive at the numbers they put out for public vote. (Derek Carson)

BENNINGTON -- The Town of Bennington, Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union, Mount Anthony Union School District, Southwest Vermont Regional Technical School District Career Development Center, and Bennington School District presented their budgets during a joint meeting on Monday.

The combined tax rate for fiscal year 2015 between the proposed municipal and school budgets will be $2.5673 per $100 in assessed home value, up 17.5 cents from the FY14 rate. The presentation broke down how much each group contributed to that increase, with MAU contributing one tenth of a cent, CDC contributing two-tenths of a cent, BSD contributing one cent, the Town of Bennington contributing four cents, five cents coming from a decrease Bennington's Common Level of Appraisal, and seven cents coming from the state raising the base tax rate from which school tax is calculated.

The public meeting, held at the Bennington Fire House, was the result of meetings conducted over the past several months between school and town officials in an effort increase collaboration between the groups. SVSU Superintendent Catherine McClure described the joint meetings as "very successful."

The school district presented its budget first, beginning a slideshow with photographs that showcased points of pride within the school system, accompanied by children singing "Lean on Me" and "Don't Stop Believin'." McClure then described the "strategic investments" that the schools would be making in FY15 in early education, special education, mathematics, instructional staffing, heavy equipment, and technology.

James Culkeen, director and superintendent of the CDC, explained that a reason for the increase in the CDC's budget this year was that their Forestry department's backhoe, which Culkeen said is used almost every day, is 20 years old and has begun to cost the school more to maintain than it would to replace.

SVSU Chief Financial Officer Rick Pembroke broke down the costs that Bennington residents would face from the school system. Bennington residents fund $2,220,533 of SVSU's operating costs ($955,000 as BSD's share, and $1,265,533 as Bennington's share of MAU's share), BSD's $12,090,076 budget, Bennington's share of MAU's budget ($15,953,999), and Bennington's share of CDC's budget ($1,614,709). All together this comes to $31,879,317.

However, Pembroke was quick to note that only about $12 million of that $32 million is raised through property taxes, which breaks down further into $4,768,505 from Homestead Education Taxes and $7,664,530 in Non-Residential Education Taxes. The remainder is funded through the state education fund, as well as various grants and reimbursements. "Bennington is a receiving community," said Pembroke, "What that means is we receive money to support us from other communities."

"Roughly three-quarters of our budget is personnel. It is managed really well," said Pembroke. He also showed that spending per equalized pupil in both BSD and MAU was below the anticipated state average of $13,670. "We've heard criticism that [BSD] is spending too little per student," said Pembroke. "The state's grand list is somewhat depressed, and the only balancing factor the state can use to balance the education budget is the property tax."

The Town of Bennington presented its budget, which will increase by about $600,000 from $10.97 million to $11.53 million, which will up the tax rate by four cents. Town Manager Stu Hurd showed that about 54 percent of that budget goes toward town employee salaries and benefits. He said the town had several major projects lined up for FY15, including $504,000 that will go toward the Coleville Road Bridge, $54,450 to purchase two new vehicles for the police department, $27,000 over eight years to purchase a new dump truck, and $56,000 for a new pickup truck for the Highway Department.

A tax rate of $2.5673 means that someone with a homestead valued at $100,000 will see a total increase of approximately $175.40 this year over last year's tax bill. That breaks down to $1.10 from MAU, $1.50 from CDC, $11.30 from BSD, $39.90 from the Town of Bennington, $51.60 from the town's CLA, and $70.00 from the state increasing the base education tax rate.

Hurd pointed out that if Bennington had the ideal CLA of 100 percent, the tax rate would decrease by 5.16 cents, however, that would mean that appraised home values would be higher, resulting in the town paying about the same amount in taxes as it is now.

Derek Carson can be reached for comment at dcarson@benningtonbanner.com. Follow him on Twitter @DerekCarsonBB