Wilmington discusses emergency/disaster fund


CHRIS MAYS , Brattleboro Reformer

WILMINGTON -- What is the difference between an emergency and a disaster?

"I don’t know any disasters that aren’t emergencies," said citizen review group member Tom Consolino.

The Wilmington Selectboard mostly seemed to agree on that point when discussing the emergency/disaster capital reserve fund that will be pitched to voters on Town Meeting Day.

"The (Vermont League of Cities and Towns) has said they are in favor of the town establishing such a fund but to clearly define it as broad or narrow as you want it," said Town Manager Scott Murphy.

On Jan. 8, he asked the board to take some time to discuss the definition, which would inevitably come up again at Town Meeting when the fund is proposed to voters. Mostly, board members needed to decide if they wanted to include both words in the title of the fund.

There will be two articles pitched to voters that include: Do voters want to establish the emergency/disaster capital reserve fund? And, if so, do they want to fund it with $100,000 from the fiscal year surplus?

The surplus -- $590,000 -- will mostly be applied to reduce taxes.

Selectboard member Jim Burke read a highlighted section of a document from the league attributed to VLCT MAC Law Clerk Daniel S. Phillips.

"Frequently towns create a catch-all fund, which many refer to as a ‘rainy day’ fund or ‘emergency fund.’ The concept of this fund is to establish a cash reserve for unanticipated expenses and emergencies that may arise over the course of the year," stated the document.

By establishing this new capital fund, the town would have money in place for unanticipated emergency or disaster events that may come up in a given year, Burke said.

"Most things end up being a disaster if you don’t fix them," said Selectboard member Jake White, who has been a long-time volunteer on the Wilmington Fire Department.

After some related discussion, Selectboard member Diane Chapman questioned whether this particular fund should be used for equipment repairs and replacement.

"I thought in the beginning, it was just for a disaster fund after what we went through for (Tropical Storm) Irene," she continued. "I just don’t know how the taxpayers would feel about that."

Burke mentioned that there are other reserve funds within the town budget that have been borrowed from and paid back in those types of situations.

The topic of identifying what events or issues would be appropriate for using the fund was brought up. "Unanticipated" was a word that continued to pop up.

Consolino questioned whether the dispersing of funds would be at the discretion of the Selectboard or if a special meeting would be warned.

"When an emergency or disaster occurs, I think this board or whatever sitting board there is, they would determine whether they qualify," said Murphy.

He then referred to last year’s establishing of the capital fund that would contain revenue from the 1 percent local option tax. A revolving loan fund that was created with part of that revenue could be utilized by those interested.

The Selectboard approves projects based on reading applications unless it is a request for $50,000 or more. Then the board has to have a special meeting to discuss the project with the public.

"For this reserve fund, we are not establishing that. There’s not a level of criteria you have to reach. It could be as small as a $2,500 emergency," said Murphy.

In response to a question regarding whether $100,000 would be annually deposited, he said board members could not answer future budget questions.


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