KEITH WHITCOMB JR.
SHAFTSBURY -- The Select Board has adopted a "virtually flat" budget that will go before voters in March and discussed Monday its plans for finalizing the town warning and how it would present the budget and various other items to the voters at the floor meeting.
The budget was adopted on Jan. 16 at $1,854,628, which is 1.4 percent less than last year's approved budget. It includes the general town budget and roads but does not include the school budget. Board Chairman Lon McClintock said the budget, if passed, would represent a zero percent increase on the municipal tax rate.
The final tax rate is a combination of the school and municipal rates. The Shaftsbury School District Board has not adopted a budget yet, but the latest draft showed a 15 percent increase in expenditures.
McClintock said the board also expects to be seeking voter approval for a bond to build a new town highway garage. A special meeting has been scheduled for Wednesday to discuss the issue with bond counsel as well as Jim Secor, of MSK Engineering. McClintock said the bulk of the project would be funded by a bond and the cost estimate will be determined at Wednesday's meeting.
Secor gave a brief recap of what the building will look like. He said it's a simple one-story structure that will have space for a repair bay and offices. It will also be able to store and mix sand and salt, and will have space for storing pipes used by the water department.
The location will be on North Road at a spot owned by the town. Town employees are expected to do site preparation which McClintock said would save money. The work session for the cost estimate is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. Friday at Cole Hall while the meeting with bond council is scheduled for 6 p.m. on Monday.
McClintock said the appropriations being asked for are about the same as last year, within $800. He said voters should keep in mind the Norshaft Little League no longer exists and that it was absorbed by Bennington Little League, which is asking for the same amount of money the Norshaft league had been requesting, which is $600.
McClintock said the budget calls for financing a 1988 excavator as well as a ton truck. He said the excavator is expected to cost $180,000, financed over 10 years, while the truck would be financed at $38,000 per year for six years. He said the excavator no longer has parts being made for it while the new ton truck will have a flat bed, a sander, and a plow.
He said an additional $5,400 has been budgeted to pay an assistant to the town administrator. He said there is already a bookkeeping assistant, but it has become clear the town administrator's time needs to be directed towards more decision making duties rather than technical ones such as transfer station management.
In other business the board talked about a request made by the Norshaft Lion's Club to beef up security at Howard Park. The club had made a similar request over the summer, saying it wanted to raise funds and improve the park but feared its work would be undone or damaged by vandals.
Board members Karen Mellinger and Carl Korman agreed to explore the possibility of finding people who would enjoy camping at the park in the summer months who would be responsible for opening and closing the park gate as well as acting as greeters in exchange for being allowed to stay at the park. Korman had suggested this as a low-cost or cost-free solution over the summer. He said the method is used in federally owned parks and has the potential to work in Shaftsbury.
Mellinger said she has met with the Parks and Recreation Committee and they have discussed the cost of an increased police presence at the park as extending the part-time superintendent's hours into the winter.
McClintock said in an interview that the town lays the superintendent off each year after they have worked eight months and that person can collect unemployment benefits from having been laid off. He said this affects what the town pays in unemployment taxes, so by not laying the superintendent off the town can ultimately not spend on those taxes and instead use that money to keep the superintendent on for the year.
Contact Keith Whitcomb Jr. at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @KWhitcombjr