Committee budget management process stirs things up

Spending by the energy committee — a topic that periodically rears its head at selectboard meetings — reared up and galloped around the conversation at the June 27 meeting.

As in the past, some of the selectboard members feel that the energy committee and other town commissions and committees should be more specific in their budget requests and spending. And when budget amounts are allocated to different expenses, they believe the selectboard should know soon after the change is made, even if the commission is spending under its budget.

Town administrator Dean Bloch shared the news that, at first glance, the energy committee looks like it’s gone over budget with spending of $1,800 for an educational sign for the town compost shed at Charlotte Central School because only $800 was budgeted for the sign.

But a conversation with chair Rebecca Foster revealed “some of the payments in the account should have been made from a grant rather than the operating account. And if that is done it actually isn’t over budget. It’s actually $30 under budget,” Bloch said.

Board member Lewis Mudge said both he and fellow member Frank Tenney knew about the sign expense because they’d been copied on an email in early May with the information.

Mudge said the energy committee was just “mixing” its budget around. If the selectboard plans to closely supervise individual boards’ use of their budgets, the selectboard needs to make sure it communicates its commitment to overseeing budget details.

“I think we should learn a lesson from this and next budget season, when we sit down again and we’re hashing out budgets, we really reinforce to committee and commission chairs — if there is going to be this sort of moving around from pot to pot — that we have full oversight of it,” Mudge said.

Town clerk and treasurer Mary Mead argued for closer oversight so that in May the selectboard would have had the opportunity to weigh in about whether it wanted to spend that much money on the sign.

The way the money was allocated for the sign was “a little messy,” Mead said.

The blame is not just on the selectboard, it’s on the committees, too, board member Frank Tenney said, “There’s got to be more discussion back and forth.”

Even though there are liaisons to the town committees, liaisons don’t make decisions, Tenney said. These issues should be brought before the board.

Board member Louise McCarren said she would approve the spending but she wasn’t happy about it.

Viewing the meeting via video, it is hard to tell how many members were holding their noses when they voted unanimously to approve the compost shed sign spending.

Who’s a Charlotter?
Trying to define what a resident of Charlotte is became a much more intricate and ethical discussion than one might have supposed.

This discussion was initiated by a proposal by McCarren — that she later withdrew — extending the right to a $30 resident beach parking permit, rather than the nonresident $50 fee, to leaseholders on Thompson’s Point.

However, Mudge said he was troubled by the idea of extending residency to non-residents.

Board member Matt Krasnow argued that rights of a resident in this situation should be extended to anyone who pays property taxes whether Charlotte is their primary residency or a second home.

“What’s the point of differentiating between a resident and a nonresident?” Krasnow said. “I know the beach was only made possible through federal funding and part of the caveat, the condition of that beach funding, is that the beach has to remain open to the public. It could not become a private beach for Charlotters.”

He said nine years ago when he first came on the selectboard the recreation commission was “the most admirable department. Both the commission and the rec coordinator at the time had the philosophy of revenue neutral operations.”

Krasnow said the recreation department and the recreation commission worked to bring in as much revenue as both rec programming and beach maintenance cost which he considers “an admirable” way of operating.

The town beach is maintained from the taxes paid by both residents and nonresident leaseholders in addition to their lease amount. Krasnow urged the board to step back from the issue, consider what is fair and extend these benefits to anyone who has property that’s on Charlotte’s grand list.

“I’m not here to say, ‘You’re a Vermonter; you’re not a Vermonter; you’re a Charlotter; you’re not a Charlotter,” Krasnow said.

Chair Jim Faulkner said he had problems with the policy as it stands now because he wasn’t aware of any town that had resident and nonresident memberships. But McCarren said she had researched the issue and found that a town can charge different rates for residents and nonresidents.

But Shelburne is not an example of this. Shelburne has only one rate — resident. They don’t have nonresident memberships at all because only residents are allowed to use their town beach. That town beach was not bought with federal funds.

Mead said she didn’t think it was a good idea to change the policy and allow nonresident leaseholders to buy resident parking passes: “I can’t imagine why you would want to micromanage something that has run quite smoothly without a problem.”

Mead also made a stab at embarrassing people who lie to the youthful beach attendants, claiming they are residents when they are not when buying parking permits.

“I’m the one who deposits checks and I see the addresses. I know quite a few people,” she said. “Shame on you.”

The board decided to put a “pin in” the resident-nonresident issue and make a decision later, after the season but before March when the stickers for the beach parking passes will be ordered for the next season.

Employee pay-rate increase
Bloch submitted a town employee pay-rate increase of around 7 percent — a 4.5 percent cost-of-living increase plus a 2-3 percent “salary administration” increase based upon an employee’s pay ranking, or quartile, as determined by qualifications including experience, training and education.

The board approved the town employee pay rate increase unanimously.