In response to the voters’ rejection of our second budget proposal, the manager and council have cut over $100,000 from the amount to be raised by taxes and level funded municipal operations — $108,160, to be more exact.
Admittedly, the first two budget rejections were frustrating. Come to think of it, any budget defeat is frustrating. No one likes rejection. Especially when we’re working so hard to make our city better for everyone and ticking off successful project after successful project. In developing the previous budgets, we tried very hard to balance our constituents’ ability to accept a reasonable tax increase with the cost of continuing the extraordinary progress that we’ve seen over the past few years — progress that needs to continue. Judging by the results of those votes, we didn’t perform very well in this regard.
I want to thank the people who took the time to contact me after the last vote to explain why they voted no. It was very helpful. I appreciate their constructive suggestions, their appreciation for the progress we’ve made, and their sincere explanation of why they cast a no vote in those elections. Almost unanimously, they explained that they were simply struggling financially. A hard winter and rising consumer prices had simply strained their finances to the point where they couldn’t absorb any general fund property tax increase. It was their thoughtful and sincere explanations that made me realize that the voters hadn’t made a mistake in rejecting the previous budgets — we had made a mistake in presenting budgets that called for an increase in general fund taxes. We simply placed too much emphasis on progress and not enough emphasis on keeping property taxes reasonable.
With their suggestions and comments in mind, we essentially “started over” with one simple goal — we needed to present a budget that called for no increase in general fund property taxes. In a collaborative effort involving myself, the council, the budget committee, the manager and our administrative team, we not only accomplished this goal, but managed to slightly reduce the amount to be raised by taxes in order to support municipal operations.
A summary of the budget we’re presenting is on the city web page (www.barrecity.org) and also available at the city clerk’s office or manager’s office. I would appreciate it if you could take the time to look at it carefully. There are three main components that make up the change in the municipal property tax rate. Those components are economic development initiatives, retirement of a cemetery fund deficit and general fund operations.
The funding of our economic development initiatives requires a one-time, 2.4 cent increase in the property tax rate. This should come as no surprise. In planning for the development of City Place and the Blanchard Block, we held over 10 public meetings (all properly warned) in order to thoroughly review the property tax stabilization requests presented by the developers and allow voters the chance to comment. Those voters who attended the meetings overwhelmingly supported the projects. With that in mind, we proceeded and offered the developers a tax stabilization plan that would ensure that the development took place. While funding our progress requires a one-time, 2.4 cent tax increase by the city initially, these projects will result in a future property tax reduction of over 10 cents. Simply put, this is a smart investment in our future. An investment that produces a handsome return. If we’re to grow our grand list and reduce future property taxes for everyone, we need to be doing more of these types of projects in the future.
Retiring our cemetery fund deficit requires a one-time increase of roughly one half of one cent. This deficit has gone ignored by past councils and administrations for decades. It’s a problem we inherited. Because the cemetery fund deficit was not part of the general fund, it could be ignored. We chose not to ignore it. We chose to be transparent and develop a plan to fix it. I’m proud of the council (and the voters) for stepping up and absorbing the cemetery fund into the general fund on a vote that occurred one year ago. In doing this, we’ve ensured that this deficit will be retired and, most importantly, that it won’t be allowed to happen again. One more problem solved.
Lastly and as previously mentioned, the net cost to fund municipal operations (more commonly known as the general fund) calls for a decrease of approximately one-half of one cent on the tax rate. While reducing general fund tax revenue will make it challenging to run day-to-day operations and continue our progress, we understand (after two votes) that it’s what voters have been asking for.
In closing, thank you again to those voters — both “yesses and nos” — who took the time to offer sincere and honest explanations about their budget expectations. I appreciate your constructive comments and your appreciation for what we’ve done and what we continue to do. I’m asking you to support the budget we’re presenting to you on June 10 to continue our progress. Thank you.
Thomas J. Lauzon is mayor of the city of Barre.
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