BARRE — The $11.2 million bottom line of a once-failed municipal budget hasn’t changed much since its Town Meeting Day defeat, and neither has City Manager Steve Mackenzie’s belief that the request is reasonable.
With a May 13 budget revote looming, Mackenzie made that pitch again this week, suggesting the spending plan is necessary to cover the cost of operating a full-service city.
“It is as thin as it can be without programmatic changes,” he said of the $11,185,472 municipal budget request.
The lone reduction reflected in that number can be traced to voters’ rejection of a $2,500 funding request from the Washington County Diversion Program. For all practical purposes, Mackenzie said, voters will face the same budget that underwent a rigorous review by a committee of citizens. After the Town Meeting Day defeat, the committee agreed to boost revenue projections by $24,400 but recommended against any additional spending cuts.
Mackenzie agreed with the committee, noting that while the projected tax rate hike that would accompany approval of the budget is still just above 5 cents, only about a third of that 3.15 percent increase — 1.3 percentage points — can be blamed on the rising cost of running the city.
“There’s no more room to take out of the operating budget,” he said, noting that other factors are driving the projected rate hike.
A big one involves the City Council’s decision to approve tax stabilization agreements for both Barre City Place and the Blanchard Block. Those agreements account for 1.49 percentage points of the proposed tax increase.
Mackenzie defended the stabilization agreements for two major downtown redevelopment projects. Both have provided a jolt to the city’s grand list that will increase incrementally over the next decade.
Also contributing to the proposed rate increase is the first $26,000 installment that is part of a 20-year plan to pay off a cemetery fund deficit that had ballooned to more than $500,000.
According to Mackenzie, the operating budget itself contains few new initiatives and the ones that have been proposed are necessary. Two new half-time positions — one to assist with parking meter enforcement and another to help collect delinquent parking tickets — are in the budget, as is the first $26,000 payment on the five-year loan that financed the acquisition of the new parking meters downtown.
The meters have generated significant revenue over the past several months, and the budget committee agreed to boost its earlier revenue estimate by $10,000 in order to reduce the projected property tax increase. The committee also agreed to a $14,400 revenue increase associated with a contract for a cell tower at the Barre Civic Center complex that was finalized after the March vote.
According to Mackenzie, those two adjustments trimmed what was a 3.51 percent rate increase to a 3.15 percent increase — meaning 5.9 cents became 5.2 cents.
Based on the revised rate, the owner of a home assessed at $150,000 could expect to pay an additional $78 in taxes if the budget is approved as proposed; the tax bill on a $200,000 home would increase by $102.
Mayor Thomas Lauzon predicted turnout will be the key and said the “first wave of constituent communications” is under way in Ward 1.
“We’ll try to hit as many houses as we can,” he said, noting residents will likely be seeing brightly colored fliers prepared by Councilor Charlie Dindo in the run-up to the revote.
“My hope is that people will come out on May 13 and support this budget,” Lauzon said.
In addition to the municipal budget, voters will be asked to approve a budget for the city’s elementary school. That budget was also defeated on Town Meeting Day.
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