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Talks continue for FY18 budget

Town asks all departments to cut spending by 6 percent

VERNON—As the town continues to adjust to the financial reality of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant’s closing late last year, more department heads appeared before the Selectboard to present their Fiscal Year 2018 budgets at the Nov. 9 budget work session.

Like others making budget presentations during the past few months, these department heads saw some painful cuts.

In July, Treasurer Cindy Turnley announced the 2016-2017 property tax rates: $1.7537 for residents and $1.6935 for nonresidents per $100 of assessed value. This represented a rise from the prior year’s rates, which were $1.5627 and $1.4363, respectively.

Although Vernon’s tax rates are nearly $1 less per $100 of assessed value than neighboring Guilford’s rates, and Guilford has no recreation center or town van, this increase was more than some Board members could stomach.

Board Chair Christiane Howe said, “we cannot keep going like this.” The Board directed all departments to cut their budgets by 6 percent.

Historians take a hit; cemeteries win

Trustee Chair Peg Frost, representing the Vernon Historians, told the Board that her department had initially been successful in cutting their budget, but an 11th-hour switch set them back.

The Historians oversee the Vernon Historical Museum, housed in a former one-room schoolhouse. The town owns the property, including the building.

Frost told The Commons the museum’s lawn-mowing costs were always paid from the Cemetery Department’s budget “for some reason unknown to me. This year, I was informed that the mowing for the area will no longer come out of the Cemetery budget.”

Instead, the $731 bill for FY18 must be paid from the Historians’ budget, Frost said.

To satisfy the Selectboard’s demands, the Historians made cuts to the building’s repair and maintenance, and to historic records’ preservation and supplies line items.

Because the Cemetery Committee no longer has responsibility for mowing the museum’s lawn, and because they found finances in the Tyler Cemetery Fund for maintaining that facility’s lawn, they were able to cut 37.1 percent from their budget.

Selectboard faces challenges

With the closing of Vermont Yankee, Vernon was forced to take over the costs of operating the Emergency Operations Center. These costs are now part of the Selectboard’s budget.

At the Nov. 9 budget meeting, the Board discussed moving the Operations Center to the Town Office Building to save money. Another cost-saving measure the Board considered was ceasing the automatic distribution of the print version of the annual report.

Although the Board took no action on either item at the budget meeting, they successfully cut 6.8 percent from their FY18 budget.They also cut 5.9 percent from the General Expenses portion of the budget by reducing expenses and laying off the webmaster.

Further reducing police coverage

After reviewing the Windham County Sheriff’s Department’s policing rates for FY18, a majority of Selectboard members agreed to recommend that Town Meeting vote for coverage at 80 hours per week.

This is a further reduction from the Town Meeting 2016 decision to contract with the Department for 20 hours per day beginning on July 1 this year, down from round-the-clock patrols prior to the new contract.

Library cuts hours, staff

Library Director Kris Berberian managed to reduce the facility’s budget by the prescribed 6 percent. Cuts included closing the library on Saturdays and laying off an assistant.

At the work session, Town Historian Barbara Moseley expressed her disappointment with cutting positions and hours.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #385 (Wednesday, November 30, 2016). This story appeared on page C1.

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