Town Manager’s Column: All About Town (January 2016)

IMG_3585ALL ABOUT TOWN
Stuart A. Hurd, Town Manager

On January 18th, the Select Board completed its work on the FY2017 General, Highway and Fire Fund budgets. After approving several agency requests adding $44,100 to the General Fund to support the Bennington Free Library, the John McCullough Library, BCRC, Paran Recreation, including a one-time donation of $15,000 to support the completion of the new Lake House, and North Bennington Recreation. The Board also finalized salaries for the Manager, the Town Clerk, and the Treasurer. The total budget is up 3.13%. This year, the Board added funds for marketing and regional economic development initiatives. In the first instance, the Board added $10,000 to the Economic and Community Development budget expressly for marketing Bennington. It also placed $15,000 in a new line item within that budget as a reserve for future regional development opportunities. The Vermont Legislature will hear from the Southern Vermont Economic Development Zone Committee soon. It is an opportunity to foster collaboration between Bennington County and Windham County “to establish an integrated investment strategy for retaining businesses within and recruiting business to the Zone”.

After projecting anticipated revenues and estimating the Grand List impact, we expect the combined General, Highway and Fire Fund tax rate to increase by only $0.015.

The March ballot will include 13 agency requests for funding totaling $124,300. If all these ballot articles are approved it will add an additional $0.012 to the tax rate. I am told the BSD budget will produce a $0.04 reduction in the education tax rate. At this writing, I have not heard how the MAU budget will impact The BSD.

That’s right, ladies and gentlemen, March Town Meeting is just around the corner. Three Select Board seats are open. Two incumbents, Sharyn Brush and John McFadden are not seeking re-election. Sharyn has served 19 years, first elected in March 1997. John is leaving after one term to take a job outside the area. Tom Jacobs, current Board Chair, is seeking re-election. Several others have taken out the necessary paperwork, but have not yet filed. Please remember that school board seats and school budgets will also be on ballots. The Floor Meeting for the various boards will be Monday evening February 29th. The vote will take place the following day, Tuesday March 1st.

One issue that may not be on the ballot is that of consolidation of the SVSU individual districts. The committee, established to study this question raised by the passage of Act 46, continues to meet. I understand that the majority of board members on the committee oppose full consolidation. This is an opportunity to reduce the education tax rate for our communities by $0.30 over 5 years. I believe those who we elect to the school boards have the best of intentions, but I must tell you I do not understand the reticence in this particular matter. It streamlines the efforts of the Superintendent’s office; it creates an elected body that hires the Superintendent; it opens up school choice; and it allows for efficient movement of teachers within the system, all while reducing the tax rate. How can one oppose this?

We have survived the Holidays; Winter has been kind to us, although a major storm may impact our region this coming weekend; and fuel costs remain low. I look forward to what 2016 has to offer.

Finally, have you noticed the early morning and late evening light? Can Spring be far behind?

Remember, if anyone has any questions or suggestions arising from this column or on any town matters, please contact me at 442-1037 or stop in at the Town Offices on South Street.

Stuart Hurd is Bennington’s Town Manager. He writes a monthly column on town issues.