BENNINGTON — Town Manager Stuart Hurd’s proposed fiscal 2023 town budget, which the Select Board will begin reviewing next month, totals just over $14.8 million — almost a 4 percent increase over the current year.
The total spending plan for July 1, 2022, to June 30, 2023, is up $565,164 over the current year. Meanwhile, the tax rate needed to cover town services stands at $1.3355 per $100 of property value, or an increase of 5.12 percent.
Included in the overall budget are the general fund, highway and fire budgets and income other than from property taxes. Town agency requests, such as for the libraries, Bennington Rescue Squad and Bennington County Regional Commission, total $928,800 and show an increase of $10,320, Hurd said. Separate ballot requests total $131,850, the same as last year.
INFLATION, PAY HIKES
The rising cost of building materials and other expected purchases were key factors in the budget increase, Hurd said, adding that inflation has been running at about 6.8 percent, and that there was a collaborative effort to keep the increase below that figure. He said $1.3 million was trimmed from original department requests during sessions with department heads.
Also factored into the budget was an expected agreement with the Public Works employees, which is being negotiated along with other town employee raises. Part-time worker positions will be affected by a raise in the state’s minimum wage.
The proposal shows the amount to be raised by local taxes is now estimated at just over $12.7 million, an increase of $573,484, or 4.72 percent, according to the proposal.
Hurd noted that the tax rate calculations showing a 5.12 percent hike are based on the fiscal 2022 adjusted grand list.
"The budget discussions this year will be difficult," Select Board Chairwoman Jeannie Jenkins said in an email. "As always, the town manager has put together a very tight budget for us to start with. Looking at the budget history, over $1.3 million has already been cut from department budget requests."
She added, "We know this year will be tough and while, as a town, we are well acquainted with doing more with less, we also need to make sure we are continuing to support economic development in Bennington. Along with the budget, the board and community will be looking at town expenditures that can be paid for out of ARPA [American Rescue Plan Act] funds and the infrastructure bill recently passed by Congress. We intend to start that conversation at the January 10 regular Select Board meeting."
Among individual budget line items to be considered by the Select Board are:
- $121,900 for two hybrid Ford SUV Police Department vehicles and two Honda ATVs for off-road and other patrolling;
- $48,010 to replace police body-worn and vehicle cameras with newer technology. This involves a five-year agreement that provides replacement of body-worn cameras in the third year at no additional cost. The total cost would be $175,300;
- $18,500 for mandatory state requirements for police training and to provide more leadership training for supervisors;
- $23,500 for building improvements at the Police Department;
- $40,000 for promotion of Bennington as a visitor destination, the same as the current year;
- $50,000 to install heat pumps for the third-floor public space in the Bennington Firehouse;
- $24,000 for lighting along a section of the Riverwalk;
- $24,600 to replace a riding mower;
- $25,000 for building improvements, including installation of heat pumps at the town offices;
- $5,000 to begin a reserve fund for information technology upgrades;
- $8,070 for lease/purchase payments for a second vehicle for the inspection department to conduct inspections in different areas at the same time;
- and $10,000 to install a motor device to open and close the sluiceway at Papermill Bridge as a flood control project.
The Select Board will begin reviewing the manager’s budget on Jan. 3, during the first of three budget work sessions when department heads and Hurd will present their spending plans.
The board is required to warn the budget for a town meeting vote at its Jan. 24 meeting. The annual town floor meeting is set for Feb. 28, and the ballot vote and election is scheduled for March 1.