SHAFTSBURY >> The Shaftsbury Select Board has begun putting together the FY17 budget, looking at the public works section of the document.
Town administrator David Kiernan led the board members through the public works budget line-by-line in a discussion that lasted well over an hour. Kiernan said health insurance from Blue Cross Blue Shield will go up 6.6 percent from last year, but there will be a net savings in wages and benefits because the road crew has dropped down to five members from six. In total, the highway administration budget saw significant savings due to the decrease in staff members, totalling over 11 percent. Kiernan also said that many signs around town need to be replaced, "because they are stolen at a ludicrous rate."
He said the size of the signs, which is mandated by the state, not only increases the cost of installation, but makes them more appealing targets for vandals. Road foreman Steve Washburn said there isn't a lot the town can do to prevent the thefts, as the perpetrators have shown significant determination to steal them. Kiernan said there have been indications that pickup trucks have been used to break signs off of their posts.
"We've had other signs, like the one on Holy Smoke Road, where they painted the sign blue," said an exasperated Kiernan, "There's another $200 out the window."
Kiernan said that, with no prospects of a new garage on the horizon, at least for the next two or three years, the town will have to continue putting money into the current garage, which gets more and more expensive as time goes on. He said the priority this coming year will be to fix leaks in the roof.
Chairman Tim Scoggins also brought up the need for a space for the road crew to eat lunch away from the fumes in the bays, and suggested renting a trailer that could be placed adjacent to the garage. Kiernan said that would be possible to put into the budget, as it wouldn't be a significant expense.
"It's common decency," said Scoggins.
Even if a new garage is approved by voters in March, said Kiernan, realistically construction would not begin until some time in 2017.
Kiernan said the budget for maintaining unpaved roads was being increased by almost 100 percent, to $50,000, because at previous funding levels, they were only able to restore about half a mile of the town's approximately 50 miles of unpaved roads every year.
Scoggins argued that this still wasn't enough: "If you want to think about getting to a town with good roads, all the time, that don't go to soup in mud season, you need to be thinking about rebuilding the roads on a schedule, and we're not even close to that yet. We're still just hitting the panic areas every mud season with this amount."
He argued that, even at the new level of funding, if the dirt road in front of your house goes to mud every spring, it could take the town 50 years to get to it.
"It looks like some of these things are going up," he said, "but they're not going up a lot, and it's stuff that needs to be done."
To view the entire recording of the meeting, you can watch it on Catamount Access Television, or view it on the station's YouTube page.