MONTPELIER — The City Council slashed $50,000 from its proposed fiscal year 2020 budget after councilors’ concerns about the impact of the increase on the municipal property tax rate.
The reduction followed last week’s budget workshop that was opposed by two city councilors, Ashley Hill and Rosie Krueger, because of a budget goal to not exceed a 3.5 percent increase.
On Wednesday, the council voted 4-1 to approve a $14.473 million budget, with Hill voting against because she considered the increase still too high for low-income residents.
There will be a second public hearing on the budget on Jan. 24 when it will be warned for the Town Meeting Day ballot.
On Wednesday, the council approved a lower spending increase of about $370,000 on this year’s $13.9 million budget, an increase of 3.4 percent. That compares with an initial budget proposal last week that called for a $473,000 increase, an increase of 3.8 percent.
Based on projected revenues, financing the proposed budget would require raising just over $9.8 million in property taxes, an increase of 3.7 cents on the tax rate or 3.4 percent.
For the owner of a median-priced home in Montpelier — $228,000 — it would mean paying an extra $85 in taxes to fund city operations. That compares with a $98 increase proposed in the first draft of the budget last week.
This year, the council had the benefit of an interactive budget table that included a wish-list of priorities to consider. By placing a check mark against the listing, it automatically updated the overall spending and tax-rate increases.
The budget item cut was $55,000 for a new full-time Parks Department position.
Mayor Anne Watson proposed the cut, noting Parks Director Geoff Beyer is expected to retire at the end of June. Watson said she would prefer to wait until Beyer’s successor is appointed before adding another new position. Hill supported Watson’s proposal.
“I know that we need the position, but I also know that this increase, plus whatever the school increase is, is going to be significant for a number of people, and I don’t make this decision lightly,” Hill said. “But I feel it’s incumbent to be mindful that tax increases translate to increases in rents for renters and I think there are a lot of folks that rent in the city and just can’t absorb that increase.”
Hill said she hoped to be able to make the position a priority in next year’s budget.
Councilor Dona Bate opposed the cut, saying she was concerned that the Parks Department would be understaffed after Beyer left because he had also worked many unpaid hours to meet the needs of the job.
Bate noted the Parks Department would have to deal with the additional workload of the Emerald Ash Borer that will decimate the city’s elm trees, although the budget does include $67,000 for a new tree management position.
Other projects the parks director would be expected to manage include a proposed Confluence Park that will be part of the Taylor Street transit center and housing complex development, Bate added.
Beyer and Parks Commission member Dan Dickerson both spoke in favor of keeping the new park’s position in the budget.
Bate and councilor Jack McCullough opposed cutting the parks’ position, requiring Watson to cast the fourth vote to remove it from the budget.
Other budget adjustments included adding an additional $5,000 to the Montpelier Alive budget to support two major conferences on the arts and historic preservation in the city in the summer.
Requests by Councilor Glen Coburn Hutchenson to add $5,000 each to the ArtsSynergy Fund and for a new citizen survey failed to win council support.