Town Manager’s Column – March 2021

ALL ABOUT TOWN

Stuart A. Hurd, Town Manager

Thank you, Bennington voters for your support of the Town’s budget and the Penny for Parks initiative. Congratulations to Jim Carroll on his re-election and to Gary Corey and Tom Haley on their election to the Bennington Select Board. All of the Agencies on the ballot were also victorious in their quest for funding. Thank you to all of those outside agencies the Town funds for seeking level funding this year. It helped us keep the budget increase to a minimum. Congratulations to the various school boards whose budgets also passed. I understand that school tax rates may decrease this year. If this is the case, we all might see a decrease in our tax bills. Now that’s something worth celebrating.

Last month, a water/sewer user had several questions regarding how our fees are developed, what are the projections for future years, and what major expenses are we covering. After answering the questions, he suggested I cover this ground in my column. How are the fees developed? We calculate the rates/fees based on current use, the number of metered and flat rate customers, and the amount we need to raise to operate the system (the budget). The customer bills provide the lion share of revenue; in the Water Fund 94%; in the Sewer Fund 98%. There are other sources if revenue such as delinquent interest, fees for customer specific service, and, in the Water Fund, revenue from the sale of Morgan Spring water. What are the major expenses we cover? The most major expense is depreciation, setting aside funds for future repairs and replacements of machinery and equipment. Next would be bond or borrowing costs for recent capital expenditures such as the Waste Water Treatment Plant upgrade or the South End water tank and system improvement. These are generally multi-million dollar projects that are paid for over 20 years. Following these two necessary expenses would be labor and administrative costs and ultimately, the costs to operate the systems. What are our projections for the coming years? In the Water Fund, we have accomplished our goal to have sufficient depreciation within the budget on an annual basis. However, the last 5 PFOA related water system projects will impact the depreciation in next year’s budget. We had projected the rate increase to be no more than 3%. The added depreciation may change that. In the Sewer Fund, we project one more year of a rate increase in the 10% range to accommodate the new bond costs for the $9.85 million dollar upgrade. The rate increases should level off in the following year to that maximum 3% range. I hope the readers find this helpful.

It’s now been one year since COVID became a reality here in Vermont. We have done a pretty good job of protecting one another by wearing masks and social distancing. And now that the vaccines are here, we hope to be able to put this pandemic behind us. The Governor has done a very good job of keeping us informed and slowly reopening the economy and allowing us to gather once again. Please don’t jump the gun. Please don’t get careless and let your guard down. Wait until the “all clear” is given. We all will be better for it.

The very positive work continues on the Police reformation effort. The Select Board sub-committee and its volunteers have now adopted 8 revised policies. I believe there are two more to go to complete this first phase effort: a Social Media Policy and a Special Events Policy. The leadership of the BPD will now add the procedures to each of these policies, post them for 10 days for public review, and with the Select Board, ultimately adopt them for use. The leadership of the BPD has now participated in three separate mental health trainings beginning its efforts to create a Crisis Intervention Team within the Department that will collaborate with local agencies who specialize in this field to respond to these calls.

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.