MONTPELIER — The warning for municipal and school budgets in the Capital City for voters to approve on Town Meeting Day were finalized at the first of two public hearings at City Council on Wednesday.
The Capital City can expect a municipal property tax rate increase of 4.5% in fiscal year 2020-21 that is almost entirely due to a 25% increase in health care and worker’s compensation insurance costs next year.
It will require an increase of 5.1 cents on the property tax rate to raise $10.3 million to maintain city services, an increase of $492,648 or 4.1% in spending on the current year. It would mean a tax bill increase of $99 a year on a home worth $200,000.
The FY20-21 general fund budget totals $14.9 million, an increase of $521,000 or 3.6%, of which nearly $400,000 or 76% is for health insurance cost increases for the city. A $25,000 increase in the capital plan and equipment fund is also included.
In his budget letter to the City Council, City Manager Bill Fraser noted that the proposed budget reflected the council’s strategic plan to keep budget increases to no more than 4%, continue to fund capital program and equipment needs, and maintain levels of service for residents.
However, in late discussions on the budget, the council agreed to break through the 4% ceiling for spending to add $14,000 to deal with the emerald ash borer problem for city trees and $23,500 to fund the Central Vermont Public Safety Authority effort to create a multi-town emergency services’ communications system.
The council also agreed to allocate $45,000 to the Homelessness Task Force fund to address homelessness in the city, but said it wanted the committee to tell the council how the money would be spent. Preliminary proposals include providing lockers for the homeless to safeguard their belongings, provide two 24-hour access outdoor Porta-John bathrooms and fund street outreach workers.
The council agreed to continue to fund the Montpelier Development Corporation, per a five-year agreement, but councilors said they would like an update on the work of the MDC to create new business development in the city.
Also included in next year’s budget is Montpelier’s $16,000 shared cost with the city of Barre and Washington Council Mental Health Services’ for a social worker — also funded by grant money — who would be “embedded” with the Montpelier and Barre police departments to work with people in the community suffering mental health issues who come into contact with police.
The budget assumes an independent ballot article for the Kellogg-Hubbard Library’s request for $350,471.
Funding for the Housing Trust Fund will remain at $110,000 annually while the Montpelier Community and Arts Fund will increase from $133,000 to $137,000.
Payment in Lieu of Taxes, or PILOT, for tax-exempt state property in the city will rise to $919,305, an increase of $31,293 or 3.5%.
The budget included a 2% increase for fire department union employees and a 2% increase for nonunion employees, while contracts for police department and public works department have yet to be negotiated.
Not included in the FY2020-21 budget is money to upgrade or replace the recreation center ($5.2 million) and $134,000 to pay the state for land acquired on the former Mowatt property on Main Street, although the city may issue bond requests for both in the November election.
Other items that did not make it into the budget because of the city’s high health care and worker’s compensations included LED lighting in the downtown ($140,000) and public WiFi ($60,000 to $90,000).
The grand list value is estimated to increase 0.5% on the current level, although the common level of appraisal is considered low at 89.6% which could increase the school property tax rate.
Montpelier-Roxbury Public Schools District officials are projecting a $25.3 million budget for fiscal year 2020-21, an increase of 4.76%.
The final figure is still unclear because of the uncertainty over what the state would pay per equalized pupil, the statewide dollar yield and reductions in the common level of appraisal in Montpelier (but up in Roxbury) that would not be known until nearer Town Meeting Day, when the state finalizes its funding formulas.
The biggest budget increases will be salaries and a 12.9% increase in health reimbursement arrangements for faculty and staff and higher technical education costs.
Together, the district said it expected salary increases currently being negotiated and health care costs would add about $720,000 to next year’s budget.
On the plus side, the school district is projecting that enrollment will continue to rise, to 1,125 students next year, which would help offset any education property tax rate increase. In future years, costs will also fall as Roxbury students transition to Montpelier schools.
A 4-cent state tax relief incentive for merged school districts also will help to lower the overall increase for the district. Special education funding and transportation aid are also expected to help lower the tax rate.
The district will add $240,000 of general fund balance to help offset the property tax increase.
Based on conservative projections, the district predicts that the school property tax rate in Montpelier would be $1.730. It would mean the school tax on a property worth $200,000 would be $3,460, an increase of $169 on the current year, in part because Montpelier’s common level of appraisal is low at about 89.6%.
In Roxbury, the school tax rate would be about $1.610. It would mean the school tax on a property worth $200,000 would be $3,219, a reduction of $188 on the current year because the common level of appraisal is high at 97.64%.
Based on the projections, the district expects equalized per pupil spending to be about $16,967 next year.
Next year’s budget includes an increase by $10,000 to $270,000 for the capital plan to pay for ongoing repairs and improvements to schools. It will be a separate article for voters to approve but is included in tax rate calculations.
The money will be used to fund a renovation of the auditorium at Union Elementary School ($90,000) and an internal stair tread replacement at UES ($40,000); and at Main Street Middle School, repairs to the stair tower ($60,000) and play area paving reconstruction ($80,000).
With rising enrollment and other programs comes additional spending to keep up with demand for services and after-school programs.
They include: a half-time guidance assistant for new information systems and data needs, a half-time library assistant to allow time for technology integration, and a 0.4 full-time equivalent fine arts teacher to meet student needs and provide more choice at the high school; a full-time seventh-eighth grade teacher that is driven by large class sizes and a full-time behavior position to deal with increasing student needs at the middle school; a 0.5 FTE pre-K teacher for the Head Start program at the elementary school; a 0.2 FTE librarian at the Roxbury Village School to provide equity between schools and for technology integration; and a 0.2 FTE for an increase in English language learning district-wide.
There also is a need for a 0.4 FTE weekend district-wide custodian due to increased facility use; increased demands for new nordic skiing and track sports activities, new co-curricular spelling teams and a new fall musical at the middle school; and the addition of a boys basketball coach at the high school.