WILMINGTON — After approving financing last year to construct the Public Safety Facility, voters knew a bigger increase in taxes would be on its way.
Wilmington’s proposed $5,833,066 fiscal 2023 budget represents an 8.3 percent bump over last year. Taxpayers will need to raise $4,759,263 and the municipal tax rate is expected to rise by 3.5 cent, representing an increase of about $35 per $100,000 of property value from last year’s bill.
The Select Board unanimously supported presenting the proposed budget to voters at annual Town Meeting on March 1 and holding the vote via Australian ballot. This marks the second year in a row Wilmington is forgoing the in-person meeting due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Town Manager Scott Tucker, who provided budget information in an interview, noted increases in the last couple of years have been less than 2 percent.
In a 290-184 vote via Australian ballot for annual Town Meeting in March 2021, residents approved taking out a $5.5 million bond for the new public safety facility to house the fire and police departments.
The proposed budget includes a $375,639 bond payment for the new facility being constructed now on Beaver Street. The current fiscal year’s budget included payments, mostly covering interest, totaling $70,461.
“The bond payment comes down every year somewhat,” Tucker said. “It’s a 20-year bond.”
An additional $80,000 for maintenance of the new facility also is included in the proposed budget.
Employee benefits have increased, including an additional $23,000 for retirement funds. Disposal and recycling expenses at the transfer station are budgeted to rise by about $46,000.
“Highway is up about $95,000 mainly due to costs going up and some money in there for capital,” Tucker said.
Citing very high rates of inflation in recent months, he said town staff salaries are proposed to increase by 4.5 percent.
Dispatcher salaries are budgeted to go up by 8 percent. Police officer salaries are proposed to increase by 12 percent.
“That’s just to try and keep pace with competitors in our area,” Tucker said.
Revenues are budgeted to increase by $138,000. About $52,000 is anticipated in savings from lister activities related to a town-wide reappraisal taking place over recent years, and the town garage bond and a loan to replace the Look Road Bridge will be paid off this year.
With an approximately $500,000 surplus, the budget proposes spending $240,000 on reducing taxes and the rest for a Planning & Acquisition Fund to cover expenditures related to the public safety facility.
“We’ve seen some serious increases in wood and other materials in general, anywhere from 2 percent to 43 percent,” Tucker said. “There’s so many unforeseen things going on with respect to inflation, we didn’t want to get caught short so we can complete the building the way we intended.”
Proposed capital fund requests on the warning are the same funding amounts as last year, except an additional $5,000 is being asked for the Public Lands and Fencing Capital Fund, bringing the total to $10,000.
“In the future, we would like to increase that amount so we can take advantage of grants and take a look at the tennis courts and some of the parks, particularly in the Buzz Towne Park area,” Tucker said. “The tennis court has been there since the 1970s. It’s certainly shown some wear and tear.”
The last estimate for replacing the tennis court came in at about $120,000, and that was before COVID-19 came along. Tucker called it “an expensive proposition.”
Articles ask voters to approve $2,679,221 for the general fund; $1,531,250 for the road budget; $26,792 for the Reappraisal Reserve Fund; $175,000 to for the Highway Town Road Equipment Capital Fund; $100,000 for the Bridge Capital Fund; $150,000 for the Fire Department Equipment Capital Fund; $5,000 for the Fire House Capital Fund; $20,000 for the Memorial Hall Capital Fund; $12,000 for the Library Capital Reserve Fund; $20,000 for the Town Hall Capital Fund; $20,000 for the Police Equipment Capital Fund; and $5,000 for the Transfer Station Capital Fund.
Voters will be asked to establish two new funds: the Water Capital Fund and the Highway Building Capital Fund. The former is intended to maintain water reservoirs, systems and equipment that came to the town as a result of its merger with the Wilmington Water District last year.
“So much of the work that has to be done in the future is replacing infrastructure,” Tucker said.
Money for the fund will be raised by ratepayers. The Select Board would be responsible for controlling and directing the fund.
The other fund is intended for maintenance of the highway department’s building. Voters will be asked to raise $5,000 for the fund.
“The building is almost 10 years old at this point,” Tucker said. “We never established a fund for building maintenance, so that’s what that one’s about.”
To better align the water and wastewater districts, voters also will consider allowing interest charges for late payments of water bills. Tucker said the interest fees would give water users a warning before their services are shut off.
Also up for consideration is reducing the number of listers and upping the number of Justices of Peace.
Tucker said the listers asked to go from having five to three board members, with the expectation that the town will soon have professionals take the posts.
“This is a step in that direction,” he said. “There are at least two people on the board who would like to retire and after the town-wide reappraisal, they think it’s time. So we would be left with three listers and they would continue to do this work, and the project plan really is the following year, to ask voters in March 2023, if they would approve a professional appraisal office.”
Tucker said the thinking behind adding three Justice of Peace positions for a total of 10 has to do with all the work their involvement in the Board of Civil Authority requires when dealing with lister grievances. Having a few more is expected to help with the appeal process in which board members have to visit different properties.
Wilmington is one of several Vermont communities that will be voting on whether to allow cannabis retailers. The article was warned after a successful petition drive by the owners of Ratu’s Liquor and Market, who plan to be one of those retailers if voters say yes.
Tucker hasn’t heard from any other potential retailers.
“We think there may be one or two others who might be interested once the voters decide the question,” Tucker said. “It will be interesting to see and we’ll see those applications, I believe, through the zoning administrator’s office and the cannabis commission. We haven’t seen rules or guidance yet from the Cannabis Control Board at the state level, but as far as we can tell, the Select Board would run the licensing much the way they do for alcohol. The liquor commission is essentially the Select Board.”
The Select Board will be voting at an upcoming meeting on whether to host an informational meeting in person or via Zoom.