Debt and other fixed costs drove up the proposed Shelburne municipal FY2019-20 budget before the selectboard heard from departments about their fiscal needs.
“We came in at roughly a 4 percent increase, and that was driven by fixed costs – debt and employee contracts,” Town Manager Lee Krohn said.
The town is starting to pay off the bonds for the library and the Quint fire truck. Employee contracts and healthcare costs also increased this year.
The overall increase to the budget is 8.7 percent, which accounts for projects paid for by grants and contracts. For example, the school resource officer contract with the Champlain Valley School District adds $85,000 to the budget that will be reimbursed to the town.
The overall impact to taxes is estimated to be 5.31 percent if all of the ballot questions– paying into the Open Space Fund and entering into a purchase agreement for the proposed fire and rescue building project – are approved. If those items are not approved, the town’s budget summary estimates a 4.38 percent increase to taxes.
The selectboard cut capital spending by half in the proposed budget, which is why voters are being asked to create the “Fire Equipment Reserve Fund.” The board allocated $50,000 for a new SUV instead of the $85,000 the department asked for.
“If we are cutting capital expenses by half, how do we make the best use of those funds?” Krohn asked. Creating these “savings accounts,” he said, is “to help department heads spend money wisely because it’s needed, not to spend money because they will lose it.”
Shelburne voters will be asked to approve $35,000 for the Open Space Fund, which is up $5,000 from 2018. The town acquired two parcels totaling 52 acres at the end of last year – a lot off Irish Hill Road and the Ewing Farm, which is located near Shelburne Pond off Cheesefactory Road.
“We want the town to have that vote every year,” Natural Resources Committee Chair Gail Albert explained to Shelburne News. “It shows us and the selectboard that conservation is a town priority.”
Entering into a purchase agreement with Healthy Living Market for a piece of land to potentially build a new fire and rescue building was the last item to be added to the ballot this year. The selectboard was negotiating the deal until Jan. 29.
Both fire and rescue have been looking to build a combined station since the early 2000s. The departments worked collaboratively in 2007 to study potential land parcels in town. The current piece of land for sale was identified as a prime potential location for the combined fire and rescue station during that study.
“Financially, this might be one of the worst times, but we knew 12 years ago this was the best site,” Rescue Chief Jacob Leopold said.
Healthy Living has a purchase agreement with Rice Lumber, which currently owns the parcel. Healthy Living owners want to subdivide the 4.8-acre lot to build the grocery store on the piece of land closer to Shelburne Road and have the fire/rescue station occupy the western lot. The whole project will require several years and several public votes before breaking ground.
First, the town has to vote to enter into the purchase agreement. If approved, Shelburne residents would vote again at Town Meeting Day 2020 on whether to buy the land for $650,000. Then voters would have to approve a bond to build the station. Fire and rescue officials have indicated they will pursue grants and other revenue sources as well to finance any potential building.
“We’re working with the town because we heard it was the number one preferred site for a new fire and rescue station and we want to be respectful of the town and its residents,” Healthy Living CEO Eli Lesser-Goldsmith said. “To date, we’ve not negotiated with any other potential partner because if the town wants it, we believe the town should have first opportunity to get it.”
Both the fire and rescue chiefs have identified a need to expand their current facilities. The rescue facility is located on wetland, and cannot be expanded. The fire building has limited room to expand because of the library project that is currently underway.
“We’ve outgrown the (fire) facility, and we don’t have handicapped accessibility,” Fire Chief Jerry Ouimet said. “If it doesn’t happen now it’s going to happen soon.”
Town of Shelburne
Monday, March 4, 7:30 p.m. – Town Meeting
Shelburne Community School
Voters will hear the auditor’s report for the previous fiscal year, and vote on the selectboard’s compensation.
Tuesday, March 5, 7 a.m.-7 p.m. – Voting by Australian Ballot at the Town Hall