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Arlington Town Hall

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ARLINGTON — The Arlington Select Board took a first look Monday at a proposed $1.9 million 2022 budget that would raise municipal spending by a total of $96,000 and the town share of property taxes by 5.18 percent.

The budget — which is for calendar year 2022, as Arlington’s fiscal year follows the calendar year — “takes care of people and focuses on compliance,” town administrator Nick Zaiac said.

“Most of the spending is baked in,” he said.

A special hearing on the budget is scheduled for 6 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 18, right before the Arlington Water Board is scheduled to meet. The board wants to finalize the budget by its regular Jan. 24 meeting, so the warning for Town Meeting can be prepared.

The largest increases reflect a nearly $30,000 increase in health insurance costs for the highway department, an additional $16,600 for parks department staffing, and an $18,000 increase in employee pensions.

The plan also sets aside more money for highway department and fire department equipment, spends $4,500 to remove the highway department’s underground fuel tank, and adds a $1 per hour wage increase for highway department workers.

In all, $74,172 in increased spending would come from tax revenue; the remainder would come from revenue, including an increased payment from Sunderland for fire coverage.

Select Board member Cynthia Browning noted that last year, the board used part of a surplus to reduce the tax rate as residents dealt with the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We got ourselves behind and we did that on purpose. So we have [an increase] now, and I hope — knock on wood — in a strong economy it’s less of a burden than an increase [would have been] last year,” Browning said. “It is a larger increase than we’ve often seen and there’s a reason for that.”

Zaiac presented a number of potential “bolt-ons” for the spending plan, including raises for town employees and an extra $1,000 for tree removal at Evergreen Cemetery. Those could either be across the board or depending on department needs.

But as the board reviewed the plan, they took notice of who Zaiac didn’t propose a raise for – himself.

That won’t do, the board told Zaiac.

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“I don’t accept that you shouldn’t get a pay increase when other people do,” Browning said.

Tuesday, Zaiac said he appreciated the vote of confidence.

Although he understands his work for the town has value, Zaiac said he left himself out because “I have important priorities for the town I’d rather accomplish, even if than means I get paid a little bit less.”

That said, if the board insists he gets a raise? “I wouldn’t say no.”

The potential wage increases would work out to 3 percent, about $3,500 total. But board member Matthew Bykowski said it should be larger, to account for inflation and competition for workers.

“I’d say a 3 percent increase to attract, develop and retain the best employees is low,” Bykowski said. “We’re going to have to look at 5 to 6 percent.”

The board went into executive session briefly to consider six potential candidates for the Wastewater Committee, which will study whether the town should make use of existing capacity at the treatment plant serving Arlington Memorial High School, build a new treatment facility, or take no action.

After returning, the board appointed Steve McClafferty, Andrew Rodriguez, Andy Curtis and Christian Heins to the committee.

Margretta Fischer and Olavi Wirkki had both sought to be part of the committee, and the board said it would welcome their involvement as part of the committee’s public process.

In other business, the board:

• Accepted the resignation of Ron Weber from the Zoning Board of Adjustment, appointed him as an alternate to the ZBA, and appointed Michaelanne Sylvester and Travis Evans to serve remaining terms on the ZBA through April of 2023.

• Agreed to purchase a salt and sand spreader from Brett Lourie of Rupert for $3,000, so that the highway department’s old plow truck can be set up as an emergency back-up. An estimate from a dealer in Massachusetts was at least twice as much for similar equipment.

Greg Sukiennik covers government and politics for Vermont News & Media. Reach him at gsukiennik@benningtonbanner.com.

Greg Sukiennik has worked at all three Vermont News & Media newspapers and was their managing editor from 2017-19. He previously worked for ESPN.com, for the AP in Boston, and at The Berkshire Eagle in Pittsfield, Mass.


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