Thursday January 24, 2013

Stuart Hurd

The work sessions on the town's budget have concluded. The board thoroughly reviewed all department budgets over the last three Saturdays. Once again this year, the work sessions were being televised for replay on CAT TV. This year's budget (FY2014) will show an increase of 3.3 percent over last year. The net impact on the town's tax rate will be approximately $0.027. The ballot will also contain agency requests, those that the board will place on the ballot (those requesting $7,500 or less and were approved in the past) and those that are now petitioning for ballot placement. The Annual Town Meeting Warning, which includes the budget, ballot articles, and elective offices, will be signed at the Board's January 28th meeting. We will know then how many agency requests are on the ballot and what the total dollar impact will be if approved.

There are three Select Board member seats up for re-election as well as the offices of the town clerk, treasurer, and moderator. As of this writing, Sharyn Brush, Tim Corcoran, and Joan Pinsonneault have announced their intentions to seek re-election. There are several people in town who have picked up petition forms for Select Board. Jason Morrissey and Chris Oldham have announced that they are not seeking another term on the Select Board. Both gentlemen have served well. I wish them the very best in their future endeavors.

The town continues to work with the State and FEMA representatives to secure full funding for the remaining Tropical Storm Irene expenses. We remain confident that the river work will be found to be eligible for funding. The ultimate final amount the town must repay will be calculated after all FEMA funding is resolved and all insurance payments are figured in to the total. It should be in the $200,000 range, a far cry from the more than $5 million it cost to recover after Irene. Dan Monks, planning director, Melissa Currier, finance director, and Terry Morse, Water Resources Superintendent, have worked hard to insure that all expenses are found to be eligible and recovered to the greatest extent possible.

This winter has been more like a normal winter than last year. Snowstorms, cold weather, and icy conditions let us know that last year was truly different. Of course, the news that last year was the warmest in recorded history should give us pause to think about the effects of climate change. However, when the morning temperature hovers around 10 degrees above zero, climate change does not appear to be an issue. We should not be fooled by what appears to be normal; change is occurring.

I read today that the SVSU and BSD budgets are increasing in the 20 percent range. The net impact on the school tax rate may be significant. The BSD is forecasting a tax rate increase of $0.15. I encourage both the SVSU and the BSD to provide a full and thorough discussion of the reasons for these increases. We hear that federal education funds are decreasing. We hear that special education funds are decreasing. These are broad, overly general explanations that really do not tell us everything. I look forward to the information that must be forthcoming so that we all can gain a better understanding of what drives education funding double digit increases in these still tough times.

Remember, if anyone has any questions or suggestions arising from this column or on any town matters, please contact me at 442-1037 or stop in at the Town Offices on South Street.

Stuart Hurd is Bennington's town manager. He writes a monthly column on town issues for the Banner.