Jr Lewis garage rebuild complicates challenging annual budget review process

The Selectboard met in a special session Monday, Jan. 3 to work on the town municipal budget, address several personnel matters and update progress on replacing the garage used by Jr Lewis for town road maintenance equipment, which was destroyed recently in a fire. The Selectboard’s budgeting challenge was punctuated by the observation that the sum of all departmental budgets as requested by the various groups, including the Library and the quasi-independent Charlotte Volunteer Fire and Rescue Service (CVFRS), and would yield a tax increase estimated at just under 30 percent, before any added expense for replacing the town garage. Although it was noted that the municipal portion of a property owner’s total property tax “nut” is only around 10 percent, with around 90 percent consumed by education, there was general agreement by Selectboard members that this amount of increase would be very difficult for taxpayers to swallow.

Of course, the devil is in the details, and these details provide some perspective:

Charlotte’s municipal budget has been held essentially flat for the three previous years.

A significant portion of the increase is to pay for salary and benefit adjustments for town personnel, including library staff, the necessary change by CVFRS from an all-volunteer staff to one including some professional management staff, and the increase in Planning & Zoning staff to three full-timers.

Remaining increases are reflected in the budget requests of other town departments and committees—CVFRS, the Senior Center, Recreation, Trails, etc.

The additional financial impact of replacing the town garage and related equipment is unclear at the moment. Site evaluation and engineering studies are underway, and the potential budget impact of a likely bonding mechanism to fund the rebuild has yet to be determined.

The Selectboard requested that several additional analyses be conducted to help clarify certain costs and will reconvene on Jan. 10 to work further on the budget.

In other business, following executive sessions, the Selectboard voted unanimously to appoint Keith Oborne as Planning & Zoning Administrator beginning on Jan. 20 and approved a severance package for Carolyn Kulik of the Senior Center staff.