BRATTLEBORO—Town staff have completed the first draft of the fiscal year 2017 municipal budget.
The Nov. 2 version of the proposed document includes numbers for the town’s general fund, capital fund, and solid waste fund.
Information on the town’s two enterprise funds — parking and utilities — are due at later date, Town Manager Peter Elwell wrote in a memo.
Elwell had some sobering, but perhaps not surprising, news for Selectboard members in his memo accompanying the proposed budget: Taxes will increase despite attempts to keep them down.
“As in past years, the proposed FY17 General Fund Budget is the product of taking an already very lean operation and trying to make it even leaner,” Elwell wrote.
“The result is unsatisfying because property taxes are proposed to increase even though staff is requesting less funding than is really needed for current operations and catch-up capital investment,” he continued.
“Therefore, if we intend to maintain all current levels of service, neither of the usual ways to adjust the proposed budget (cut operating costs or increase property taxes) are available to us,” wrote Elwell.
Elwell wrote that the proposed budget includes a number of increases and decreases. The net effect of these is a 4.7 percent increase in the fiscal year 2017 budget compared to fiscal year 2016.
Assuming no change in the Grand List, the proposed budget would increase taxes 3.7 percent, or $43.21 per $100,000 of assessed property value. This increase does not include borrowing for the Police-Fire Facilities Project or education spending.
The most significant increase is $602,000 for capital projects and equipment.
Elwell also proposed increases to employee compensation, writing that the proposed $130,000 increase represents approximately 2 percent of current total pay for town staff and is a “placeholder” for upcoming collective bargaining with the town’s four unions.
Whether the increase is approved will depend on the outcome of the collective bargaining and Selectboard approval.
Without the capital improvement investment, the fiscal year 2017 budget would increase 0.9 percent compared to the current budget.
Elwell wrote that the Selectboard and staff should ask themselves these questions:
• Capital improvements: Can the town afford the projects proposed for fiscal year 2017? What are the implications of delaying projects — in many cases, again? Is it better to fund the projects through current revenues or with debt?
• Employee compensation: If the town can’t afford the $130,000 placeholder, how will it afford any pay increases that might arise from collective bargaining?
• To save money, would residents agree to reducing curbside trash pickup to every other week? The recycling and compost pick-up schedule would remain the same.
• Should the town use “excess fund balance” to offset the amount of property tax it needs to raise?
Elwell noted that his comprehensive review of town operations is ongoing. The board asked Elwell to review the town’s expenses and revenues when he joined the town earlier this year.
Still, wrote Elwell, the review process has informed the fiscal year 2017 budget.
• Dividing the Capital Improvement Plan into two documents: First, a list of town vehicles and large equipment, including a replacement schedule; and second, a multi-year schedule of projects addressing town infrastructure needs.
• No borrowing planned for fiscal year 2017 capital improvements or vehicles.
• Using unidentified fund balance (sometimes called surplus) funds except for specific one-time capital project needs.
• Increasing some fees for programs or services.
• Summarizing town departments’ budgets broken down by programs, a request made by Selectboard members earlier this year to help them make policy decisions.
“Staff approached preparation of the FY17 budget with the dual goals of maintaining all current levels of service and containing the cost of town government to the greatest degree possible,” Elwell wrote. “No service reductions are proposed.”