WILMINGTON — Selectboard members were determined to keep the municipal tax rate the same as last year as they ran through the budget several times over.
"This was a difficult process this year," Town Manager Scott Murphy said Tuesday. "This is the result of a lot of hard work by town staff and the Selectboard."
The proposed fiscal year 2017 budget of $4,315,613 is up by $73,209 from FY16's budget. But it "basically contains no change in the town's tax rate of $0.502" for every $100,000 of assessed value, said Murphy.
Coming up with a level-funded budget required 10 to 11 meetings and several interviews with department heads, social service organizations and members of the public.
On Jan. 6, the board had a budget with an additional increase of between $43,000 or $45,000. And Murphy thought it would be approved and sent to voters. But board members got together again two days later and decided they were "so close" to having it level funded, he said.
"That's when they went through it with a fine-toothed comb," he said. "We had some serious discussions and managed to squeeze it down."
Wilmington residents will join other Vermonters deciding on budgets at annual Town Meeting Day, scheduled for March 1 this year. Town Meeting Day is held the first Tuesday of March every year.
The police department's budget is up by $51,680, mostly to make room for an extra officer if voters authorize it. An article at Town Meeting will ask whether a sixth position should be funded since a grant will run out. The town had also contributed some money as part of the grant agreement.
The position costs roughly $63,000 and factors in salary, benefits and retirement. Continuing the funding is important as development continues downtown and at the Hermitage Club's private ski resort on and around Haystack Mountain, according to Police Chief Joe Szarejko, who said the impact of the projects were still unknown.
Last month, he told Selectboard members that costs associated with overtime would drop significantly.
"Our part-time usage decreases and it's used for grants and supplementing shifts," Szarejko said. "I don't like using part-timers or less-trained individuals to cover shifts. Before, that's one of the reasons I wanted to go to that sixth position."
A receptionist/assistant position was cut from the proposed FY17 budget after Jessica DeFrancesco took over Mary Towne's role as assistant to town manager. Towne retired in December 2014 after 25 years.
"We hadn't had that filled last year," said Murphy. "We kind of kept that open and used it to fill in when people were on vacations. When we needed filings, we would have someone come in and help."
Line items for matching grant funds and municipal planning grants were taken out of the budget with the idea that money raised through the town's 1 percent local option tax could be applied instead. The town already uses the revenue for events and other grant programs.
Murphy is developing a policy to propose to the board by its next meeting.
"Most of the applications require Selectboard approval anyway so it's not really any extra step," he said.
Also removed was funding for two organizations, Southeastern Vermont Community Action and the Green Mountain Retired and Senior Volunteer Program known also as RSVP.
SEVCA provides programs and services to low-income residents in Windham and Windsor counties. RSVP, a part of the Corporation for National and Community Service which is sponsored by the Southwestern Vermont Council on Aging, is a program where volunteers over the age of 55 assist in various projects and services within communities.
"The Selectboard just felt that their social service dollars were better served by groups that serve more Wilmington residents," said Murphy, who confirmed 1 percent funds could be sought by the groups but no "promises" from the board had been made yet. "That's one option."
Board members and residents have complained publicly to senators and town representatives about property tax rates. The number is driven by education funding formulas.
In September, Selectboard member Susie Haughwout told lawmakers Wilmington was "facing a crisis" and decided to consolidate school systems with Whitingham several years ago. Regarding their rising taxes, the Agency of Education pointed to a decrease in pupils and construction costs associated with the consolidation efforts.