• Mackenzie: Barre budget nearly as low as it gets
    By David Delcore
     | February 21,2013
     

    BARRE — If City Manager Steve Mackenzie wants to find a new source of revenue, he could consider fining himself a dollar for every time he uses the phrase “bare bones” between now and the city’s Town Meeting Day elections.

    Mackenzie used the tired term several times Tuesday night while launching a public push for a $10.48 million budget that he says is defensible and hopes Granite City voters will find tolerable.

    The proposal reflects nearly $545,000 in new spending — an increase of almost 5.5 percent — while triggering a nearly 10-cent tax increase.

    Mackenzie winced when calling it “bare bones” the first time but repeatedly returned to it during Tuesday night’s presentation.

    According to the manager, the only “discretionary” increase in an otherwise austere budget is tied to the council’s split decision to override a budget committee’s recommendation and include $183,000 to hire two additional police officers.

    With the exception of that “significant new initiative,” Mackenzie said the committee-vetted budget is tight and that the vast majority of the proposed increase is driven by factors that are beyond the city’s control.

    Health insurance, Mackenzie said, tops that list, accounting for more than $170,000 of the proposed increase. Meanwhile, the cost of property and casualty insurance will climb by nearly $98,000, and negotiated pay raises for employees are expected to add roughly $105,000 to the budget’s bottom line.

    According to Mackenzie, those three items account for nearly $374,000 in new spending — about $12,000 more than the spending increase that would have been needed if councilors hadn’t voted, 4-3, to include funding to expand the Police Department from 18 to 20 officers.

    Mackenzie, who freely conceded he is gambling when it comes to commodities like gasoline, heating oil and road salt, said the proposed budget increase would have been even higher but for a combination of cuts, savings and cost shifting.

    By way of example, Mackenzie said he cut $41,000 from the Cemetery and Parks Department and then trimmed an additional $53,000 at the behest of the budget committee, which he complimented for its thorough work.

    “This budget has really received the most scrutiny of any budget proposal I have prepared,” he said.

    According to Mackenzie, the city’s annual debt service for an assortment of previously approved projects will drop by $33,000 during the coming fiscal year. He also said a decision to take a one-year break from an aggressive street reconstruction program would provide seed money for a more robust capital program if voters approve that $810,800 ballot item March 5. The decision to ease up on street reconstruction and place a heavier emphasis on a capital program allowed Mackenzie to shift nearly $140,000 out of the proposed general fund budget. Instead, items ranging from $50,000 for two new police cruisers and a $30,000 lease payment for a new ambulance to $15,000 for turnout gear for firefighters will be financed through the proposed capital equipment plan.

    According to Mackenzie’s calculations, the municipal portion of the tax rate would climb nearly 10 cents, from just over $1.58 per $100 of assessed property value to just under $1.68. When coupled with a projected 4-cent rate hike that would accompany approval of budgets proposed for Barre City Elementary and Middle School and Spaulding High School, the overall tax rate increase facing Barre voters is just under 14 cents, or 4.9 percent.

    For local homeowners, that projected rate hike would translate into a tax increase of $136.50 for every $100,000 of assessed value. The tax bill for a home assessed at $150,000 would increase by $204.75 if all of the budget requests are approved, while the annual taxes on a home assessed at $200,000 would go up $273.

    According to Mackenzie’s calculations, more than 25 percent of the projected increase — $56.70 on a $150,000 home and $75.60 on a $200,000 home — can be traced to the proposed expansion of the Police Department.

    david.delcore @timesargus.com

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