Town Manager’s Column – January 2021

ALL ABOUT TOWN

Stuart A. Hurd, Town Manager

At its January 11 regular meeting, the Select Board finalized the FY22 budget to be placed before the voters. The Board will meet on January 25 to adopt the budget and sign the Annual Town Meeting Warning. The General Fund which includes all administrative offices, the Police Department, Recreation and all agencies receiving funds from the Town by being placed in the budget (the two libraries, Rescue Squad, North Bennington Recreation, and Lake Paran) is increased only 2.19%. The Highway Fund is increased only 0.33% and the Fire Fund (the Bennington Fire Department) is decreased 0.17%. Combined the total increase is 1.58%. The estimated tax rate for the combined budgets ranges from $1.2675 to $1.2710 depending on Grand list growth and other revenues. This is an increase of just over 2%.

The ballot will contain several other Articles for voter consideration. There will be a question aptly named “a penny for parks” wherein voters will be asked to approve an annual adjustment to the tax rate of $0.01 to set up a reserve for park improvements such as the replacement of the community-built park. There will be another vote on the mayoral question. It is the same wording voted down in 2018. The Board will consider whether or not to place wording on the ballot to allow the Town to opt in to the retail sales and manufacture of cannabis. There are twelve agencies on the ballot as well. This year they are essentially level funded at $131,850.00.

The Board has continued working with Police Department leadership and the community to implement improvements recommended by the IACP Report. The Community Policing Working Group has created a process in which a Policy Advisory Committee made up of 4 citizens, a Select Board member, a Police Officer, and a Town staff member develop and recommend policies to the Select Board and Chief of Police. Officer Ferrara is a committee member. Dan Monks, Assistant Manager also serves on the committee as does Bruce Lee Clark, who acts as Chair. Four different community members meet with the three members listed above to review each designated policy. The work is scheduled to conclude in April 2021. The revised and updated policies adopted thus far are: Response to Resistance/Use of Force, Duty to Intervene, Use of Conducted Electrical Weapons, Investigation and Reporting of Hate Crimes, and Fair and Impartial Policing.

The Governor has now restricted multi-family gatherings both indoors and outdoors. If you have gathered in this way, you must quarantine and should get tested. Travel for leisure activity requiring travelers who enter the State or return to the State are required to quarantine. Please check the ACCD website for further details. The surge in those infected resulting from holiday gatherings is mounting. This virus remains very active. The vaccine has arrived in Vermont. First responders and health care workers are now being vaccinated. Beginning in February people will begin to get vaccinated by age groups. Please check the SVMC web site to understand the age band you are in. We, in Vermont, have done a pretty good job keeping the virus somewhat at bay. Unfortunately, it’s not over so be careful; stay safe; stay healthy.

On January 6, we watched in horror and anger as thousands of Trump supporters attacked the Capital in Washington D.C. trying to stop the count of Electoral College votes. Now we are hearing that “rallies” will be held at every State capital in support of Trump between January 16-20, Inauguration Day. This madness must end. Joe Biden and Kamala Harris will take office. Let’s hope that no one else suffers serious injury or loss of life before peace is restored to the country.

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.