POWNAL — The Select Board on Thursday outlined a new plan for dealing with a town hall project that has gone $200,000 over estimates and the effects of that overage on the town budget.
The board had considered asking voters to use $200,000 from undesignated surplus funds in the current budget to cover the project deficit and finish the town hall work this fiscal year.
But Vice Chairman Mike Gardner on Thursday proposed taking $100,000 from the current budget surplus and waiting until the next fiscal year — beginning on July 1 — to make up the rest of the amount needed for the project through funds that will be available then.
The board decided that a request for $100,000 from surplus funds from this fiscal year will be made in the form of a ballot question on the annual town meeting warrant. Gardner said the proposed changes also include using money in fiscal 2023 from a town capital project fund and $50,000 the board had placed in the next budget as a contingency for residual town hall expenses.
Those funds would be used toward covering the second $100,000 of the project deficit.
WORKED WITH TREASURER
Gardner said he and town Treasurer Ellen Strohmaier recently studied the town budget figures and accounts to find ways to reduce what had been projected as at least a 23 percent budget increase for fiscal 2023.
He said the increase is now expected to be in the 4 percent range for next year, or closer to being level-funded with the current year. A vote on the annual warning with the final figures is expected on Thursday.
“I am extremely comfortable with what Ellen and I came up with,” Gardner said. “I think it is a pretty legitimate budget there.”
Strohmaier said she and Gardner were “trying to find ways to rein it in; it has already been costly to every taxpayer, and we are taxpayers ourselves.”
She said she will go over all the budget figures again before giving the Select Board totals to be approved next week for the annual town meeting warning.
“I really have to voice my appreciation,” board member Bob Jarvis said. “That [projected budget increase] was bugging me more than anything. I was losing sleep over it.”
The timeline for town officials to begin moving from the cramped current town office into the nearby new town hall on Center Street wasn’t updated during the meeting.
However, reached on Friday, Gardner said it should not be significantly affected. He said finish work, like flooring, information technology installations and painting, is underway inside the mostly completed main section of the new building.
Plans to move a historic schoolhouse from nearby North Pownal Road and attach it to the main building are the aspect that could take longer, he said, but that is primarily to be used by officials for meeting space, not the new town offices.
The discussion on Thursday night about the town office project was solely related to the general fund budget.
Gardner said Friday that the town highway budget is close to being level funded with the current year. He said the total for separate ballot articles won’t be known until after the treasurer finishes reviewing the final budget figures.
A ballot item was added by the board on Thursday. The board put a request from the Pownal Rescue Squad for $16,000 on the warning and decided to add $2,000 for the squad to the town budget. That was made in light of worker compensation costs for the squad, which have risen significantly. Those costs were being paid by the town but were in the range of $1,200 a year when the squad was an all-volunteer organization.
But since becoming incorporated as a nonprofit and going to a mostly paid squad, the town can no longer put the cost under the municipal budget. Squad members said they were facing an $18,000 estimate for worker compensation insurance.