Barre’s tough budget figures start with insurance
BARRE — The City Council received a preview of coming attractions when City Manager Steve Mackenzie set the stage this week for his budget presentation scheduled for Tuesday.
He didn’t provide much detail, but what he did give were some attention-getting projections and one “guesstimate” in the run-up to a budget discussion that could bleed into February.
According to Mackenzie, the budget he will present next week reflects a 26 percent spike in health insurance costs — an increase of $125,000.
Mackenzie said the council can add another $125,000 to cover a 2.5 percent pay raise for city employees, and roughly $80,000 for an 8.4 percent increase in the city’s premium to the Vermont League of Cities and Towns insurance fund. While they’re at it, he said, councilors can factor in at least a $100,000 increase for fixed costs — pushing the projected budget increase over $425,000 right out of the gate.
In a city that will cost $10 million to run this year, that would amount to a 4 percent spending increase and is already flirting with the upper end of Mayor Thomas Lauzon’s comfort zone.
Lauzon acknowledged as much this week, noting that it will be a challenge to consider new initiatives like expanding the police force.
“I’m certainly not going to bring it up if it’s not brought up,” he said of an idea that has been the subject of on-and-off discussion.
Mackenzie has estimated it would cost roughly $75,000 for each additional officer, and Lauzon said that barring a significant infusion of revenue, or cuts in other areas, he would have a hard time taking on the additional expense.
“It’s going to be quite a challenge to start adding new positions into this budget,” he warned. “If you’re going to do that, there are going to be other choices that you’re going to have to make.”
The alternative, Lauzon said, would involve asking voters to approve a budget that he would have a hard time supporting.
“A budget that tips the scale, in my opinion, at (a) 6 percent (increase) is simply not sustainable,” he said.
Lauzon’s comments represent the opening salvo in a budget discussion that will begin for real next week when Mackenzie rolls out his spending plan.
Mackenzie is scheduled to meet Monday night and again Wednesday with a newly created eight-member citizens budget committee. Sandwiched between those sessions will be his Tuesday night presentation to the council.
The budget has to be finalized by Feb. 3 — a Sunday. Mackenzie already has scheduled two Saturday council meetings — one a week from today and another Jan. 26 — and has penciled one in for Feb. 2 if deliberations go down to the wire.
Mackenzie said feedback from the committee will be important but that the council’s input is crucial given the tight time frame.
With that in mind, Mackenzie rejected the suggestion he skip Tuesday’s planned presentation in favor of briefing the council a week from today.
“I want to make sure that the council has enough time to digest it,” he said of the budget.
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