NORTH BENNINGTON — The village of North Bennington and the elementary school district are preparing for their annual meetings and elections.
The annual North Bennington Graded School District election and fiscal year 2024 budget vote is set for March 7 at the village office building from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
The district floor meeting will be held March 4, beginning at 9 a.m. at the Village School of North Bennington on School Street.
In addition to voting on a $3,176,603 proposed budget, district voters will be asked to approve a tuition rate for the school of $19,003 for residents of the district.
There also are five open district positions up for election on March 7, all with candidates who are unopposed on the ballot.
John Lamson is a candidate for district moderator; Doug Buggee for delinquent tax collector; Tim Kane for a two-year term on the Prudential Committee; Ray Mullineaux for a three-year term; and Kim Krall for a one-year unexpired committee term.
As for the village budget vote, the annual floor meeting is set for March 21 at 7:30 p.m. in the Carriage Barn on the Park-McCullough House grounds.
In addition to acting on the next budget during the meeting, officers will be elected at that time.
Village trustees Matthew Patterson and Tara Lowary are each running for a new term on the board.
In addition, village Clerk Lori Elwell, Moderator John Ulrich and Treasurer/Delinquent Tax Collector Doug Buggee are also running again.
All are unopposed, although nominations for village offices may be offered from the floor during the March 21 meeting.
The proposed overall village budget totals $694,031, of which $422,401 is proposed for the highway budget.
A total of $50,500 is proposed for next year in individual requests from organizations.
Village voters also will be asked to approve a one-time additional $1,760 to Paran Recreations for the purpose of managing nuisance weeds in Lake Paran.
Another item requests additional annual funding of $2,000 to the North Bennington Outdoor Sculpture Show, bringing the total allocation to $2,500.
A letter prepared for voters by the school’s Prudential Committee concerning the proposed budget says that the $3,176,603 spending plan represents a decrease of 1.5 percent from the amount approved last year.
“School boards across the state wage annual battles with inflation,” the letter states in part. “The impact of inflation in the budget residents will vote upon this annual meeting of the North Bennington Graded School District is lessened due to a decline in [the number] of students the district is budgeting for in the K-6 range: the district budgeted for 159 for the current 2023 fiscal year; 153, for FY 2024.”
The letter adds that “The biggest driver of tax rate increases for this year’s budget is the pandemic era free fall of the Common Level of Appraisal, (CLA) which the state uses to create equity in the cost to tax payers for equal amounts of educational spending. Most districts in the state have been affected and more than 60 percent, including ours, will be forced to reappraise properties.”
In response, the committee said it decided to reduce the amount of a contingency reserve account and the amount set aside for the district’s building expenses.
“The committee decided that the tuition budget contained sufficient margin to allow a decrease in the contingency fund given the projected [student count] decline,” the committee wrote, and those changes “allowed the committee to remove $96,000 from the budget creating a decrease in the overall budget of $47,760.”
Another consideration for the district – which includes a section of Shaftsbury - was the different Common Level of Appraisal percentage figures for the village and the town.
“In this district there are 2 different rates,” the committee wrote, “one for Shaftsbury District 1, where the CLA dropped from 95.33 percent of fair market value to 85.44 percent, and one for North Bennington, 85.50 percent to 69.4 percent.”
The state requires a community to do a real estate reappraisal when values in the grand list fall to less than 85 percent of the common level of appraisal figure. However, with so many Vermont communities near or below below 85 percent -- primarily because of the high property sales figures posted during the pandemic -- there are proposals to delay reappraisals or revise the triggering percentage requiring a reappraisal.
A lower CLA figure indicates that real estate is selling for more than the property values shown in the town’s grand list, and a reappraisal is required.
Based on current information, which could change during the legislative session, the committee letter estimates that the Homestead tax rate for North Bennington taxpayers could increase by 2.83 cents per $100 property valuation over the estimated rate for last year, and could decline for Shaftsbury taxpayers in the district by 10.80 cents per $100 valuation compared to last year’s estimate.