Vermonters aiming to save tax money at March town meeting once scanned for fat in the budget mailed to them beforehand. Then local leaders calculated a way to cut costs even earlier in the process.
“We are committed to reducing spending wherever possible,” Green Mountain Union High School officials in Chester wrote voters this year. “For the purposes of the printed annual report booklet, the budget presentation has been reduced to a 2-page summary.”
Vermont law requires municipalities to publish an annual auditor’s statement, which many communities supplement with exposition from everyone from their town clerk to dogcatcher. But a rising number are saving printing and postage costs by delivering only the statutory budget basics and promising the rest to anyone who seeks it in person or online.
Take Manchester, population 4,391, which has divided its report into two parts.
“Part A, mailed to all postal patrons of zip codes 05254 and 05255, includes the proposed budgets for the school district and municipal government, tax information, town meeting warning, minutes from previous town meetings and contact information,” an attached note explains.
Part B — featuring everything else — is available to anyone who requests it.
“This new method is designed to save the taxpayers money and reduce paper consumption,” it says.
Townshend, population 1,232, has embarked on a “multi-year initiative to reduce both financial impact and organizational stress associated with the production and distribution of the annual town report,” auditors write.
“Last year the town report was only mailed to registered voters, not to all town property owners. This year we have continued to reduce expenses by making the report available in PDF on the Townshend website prior to town meeting and only mailing a single copy to confirmed multi-voter households with their approval.”
Next year the town may move entirely to email, auditors say.
“As always, our goal is to reduce unnecessary expense where possible.”
What’s lost and what’s gained?
“We have every intention of full disclosure,” Ludlow Municipal Manager Frank Heald said at a recent Select Board meeting. “But we’d save $1,500 by not printing the entire 50-page financial and instead producing a summary.”
Leaders of the town of 1,963 voted to follow that advice and make the information available upon request.
“Maybe the number on how much we saved should go on that report page,” Selectman Doug Ficken added.
In Bridport, population 1,218, “The Select Board will be initiating a discussion at town meeting about the way town reports are distributed and how this could be changed to save money while still getting the information to those who wish to be informed,” officials write.
Athens, population 442, and Halifax, population 728, both have ballot items asking, “Shall the town provide notice of the availability of the auditor’s report in lieu of mailing or otherwise distributing the report itself.”
Wilmington, population 1,876, will ask a similar question “to see if the town, pursuant to Title 24, Vermont State Annotated, section 1682, will allow optional electronic delivery.”
Some towns are already doing that. In Bolton, population 1,182, the auditor’s report promised on page 14 features the single sentence, “The full auditor’s report is available at www.boltonvt.com.”
Then again, the Internet has its own issues. Just ask the town clerk in Westmore, population 350: “The town website was recently attacked by a virus. This required a complete overhaul. Hopefully it is now working better.”
And his colleague in Sudbury, population 560: “Please note the company I used for an email address for 20 years went belly up in August without warning its customers. My new email is firstname.lastname@example.org. Be sure to change your records.”
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