By Mark Kobzik and Lisa Scagliotti
Town Manager Joe Colangelo handed off the draft 2018-19 town budget to the Shelburne Selectboard Tuesday night with the caution that it carries with it a tax increase of approximately 9 percent, unless the board opts to pare it down.
The $8.8 million spending plan reflects an increase of roughly $700,000 over last year’s budget. Colangelo said it would translate to an increase of 3.5 cents on the municipal tax rate which would cost a homeowner $35 for every $100,000 of assessed value.
The selectboard has several weeks to review the draft before it approves the final spending plan that voters will consider on Town Meeting Day, March 6.
Colangelo said the three main factors driving the increase in the budget this year are new debt service on the library reconstruction bond and the bond that paid for the new Quint fire engine, along with increases in wages and benefits for police and dispatch staff.
Town officials also acknowledged that any change in the tax rate for next year will also incorporate the school tax which makes up 80 percent of the overall tax bill.
Colangelo said he and Finance Director Peter Frankenberg will work with the board to review details and consider possible areas to trim but that any significant cuts would mean cuts to programs and services.
In other business, the board chose Susannah Kerest to fill a vacancy on the planning commission. In her application for the position, Kerest said: “I believe the health of our community depends on the ability of its diverse citizens to connect with each other. These connections can happen in Shelburne through businesses, outdoor recreation, varied housing opportunities, and gathering places – both free and commerce-based.”
The board heard from members of the public who questioned the 3-1 decision by the board last week to appeal the federal court ruling on the Vermont Railway Inc. case.
Several speakers questioned the board about its choice to accept a $20,000 donation from the non-profit Vermont Natural Resource Council, an environmental advocacy group. Dr. Steven Metz several times asked the board to explain its decision after rejecting offers last fall from an individual who wanted to donate $2,500 to help fund the work of the Ethics Committee. Former selectboard member Ken Albert asked each member to clarify why they voted the way they did.
Chairman Gary von Stange deflected the question, criticizing speakers for taking too long to ask their questions and suggesting they should have asked the board about the matter last week. Jaime Heins said he would need more time to answer; Dr. Colleen Parker answered she was doing what she thought a majority of voters wanted. Jerry Storey noted that he cast the lone vote against the appeal and accepting the donation. Josh Dein did not participate in the vote having recused himself according to an earlier agreement that he not take part in discussions of the railroad project.