BENNINGTON —With the fiscal 2022 budget nearly finalized, the Select Board has reduced the spending plan submitted by Town Manager Stuart Hurd to bring a projected 3.8 percent tax rate increase down to around 2 percent.
Hurd had recommended most of the cuts from the original $14,434,470 town budget after a request from the board to trim the rate hike to approximately 2 percent, representing about $200,000.
The $14.4 million combined town budget first proposed had represented a 2.71 increase over the current year, Hurd said, and it accommodated increases for contracted pay raises and for insurance cost hikes.
The board agreed to the changes Hurd recommended with a few alterations over the course of a lengthy budget workshop session Saturday and Monday’s regular board meeting.
After a brief executive session Monday, the board also added what could be the final budget piece — 2-percent pay raises for the manager, the town clerk and the town treasurer.
With board member Sarah Perrin casting the sole “no” vote, Hurd’s salary was raised from $112,848 to $115,105; Town Clerk Cassandra Barbeau’s from $88,234 to $90,002, and the treasurer, Joan Pinsonneault, from $15,004 to $15,304 for the part-time position.
Hurd said the final vote on the fiscal 2020 budget, covering July 1 through June 30, 2022, will be taken Jan. 25.
The manager said Tuesday that the total reduction after the recent changes was $159,030. Last week, he had recommended a total of $178,750 in reductions from five budget categories.
Those were marketing of the town by the Community Development Department; the solid waste recycling program; recreation and parks; highway bridge project reserve funds, and a fire equipment reserve fund.
“The combined [town] budgets are up 1.58 percent,” Hurd said in an email. “That will increase the combined tax rate in the range 2.02 percent to 2.22 percent, depending on Grand List growth and current estimated revenues ($1.2675 to $1.2710). Last year’s combined rate was $1.2424.”
Among budget line items that changed from Hurd’s initial spending plan were elimination of $50,000 to create a reserve fund for parks and reaction projects, such as the needed replacement of an aging community built playground which is deteriorating. The manager had proposed the amount for a fund that eventually would help pay for an estimated $260,000 playground replacement project.
However, Hurd now is recommending a Penny for Parks ballot question on the ballot, which the board has discussed. That would ask voters to set aside 1 penny on the tax rate for a parks and recreation project reserve fund. If approved, it would raise about $100,000 per year.
Hurd had recently proposed $30,000 to market the town, down from his original $50,000, but the board eventually settled on $40,000 for the program next budget year.
Reductions agreed to were in a reserve fund for highway bridge projects, where $100,000 was cut, leaving $100,000, and a reduction in a fire department equipment fund request from $25,000 to $15,000.