Morristown voters could face nearly a 5 percent increase in the town budget on Town Meeting Day.
The Morristown Select Board’s working draft is just over $6.1 million, $271,864 more than the $5.8 million budget approved last March. If the budget remains intact, that’s a 4.7 percent increase. However, a lot of budget work remains.
On Monday, the select board heard budget proposals from the town and village highway departments, the last to make their case for the budget year that starts July 1.
Now, the board will spend its next two meetings deciding if, and where, any trimming should occur, and if anything should be added.
The board plans a full budget review on Tuesday, Jan. 14, beginning at 4:45 p.m., and will meet Jan. 21 at 6 p.m. to finalize the budget proposal and warning for town meeting. Both meetings are at the municipal offices on Portland Street.
Even if the budget goes up 5 percent, that may not translate to a 5 percent increase in the tax rate. Finance Director Tina Sweet said the total value of Morristown’s taxable property has risen significantly in the last year, she said, which means property taxes will be spread out over a broader tax base.
Highway budget up
The budget proposal for Morristown’s highway department, which includes both a highway and village garage and two crews, now sits just under $2.2 million.
That’s an 8.3 percent increase — $168,146 — from the current budget, in large part because the town wants to get a better handle on overtime pay during the winter.
Sweet said that, for several years, the town has severely under-budgeted the amount needed to cover crew members’ overtime for plowing and treating roads.
In the past, the town typically budgeted for regular time worked by the crew and then added 15 percent for overtime. An extra 30 percent is what’s actually needed, Sweet said, and the budget proposal reflects that. In the past, money had to be drawn from other accounts to cover the overtime pay.
“This reflects more of what’s actually going on,” she said, although trying to project overtime hours during Vermont’s unpredictable winters is a dicey proposition.
“You never know what kind of year you’re going to have,” Sweet said.
The department is also budgeting more for road salt in the upcoming year; that’s also been under-budgeted and no adjustments have been made for inflation for several years.
In addition, $5,000 was added to cover the actual cost of heating fuel for the two highway garages.
Insurance is another factor pushing up Morristown’s budget. Liability insurance, in particular, is going up this year, and so is the cost of maintaining, and possibly upgrading, the software used by municipal staff, Sweet said.
The appropriation for Morristown Centennial Library is expected to increase $6,000.
The line item “Uncompensated Absences” is slated to increase from $15,000 to $40,000. Sweet explained that money is set aside each year, so that when longtime employees retire, the town has money available to pay them for unused paid time off. Several longtime employees are at or near retirement age, Sweet said, so the fund is being adjusted to cover expected payouts.
While several departments project budget increases, Morristown’s revenues from sources other than property taxes are also going up.
Those revenues are estimated at just over $1 million, up 7.2 percent from the current budget year.
In particular, revenue from the Morristown Emergency Medical Services Department is “up quite drastically,” Sweet said, because the town is being reimbursed more for ambulance calls.
Additionally, the town is collecting more in fees for zoning permits.
Several other possible changes in Town Meeting Day business could affect finances in Morristown.
• Historically, voters add 1 cent to the tax rate to raise $64,000 for an equipment reserve fund for the highway department. The money is used to buy new trucks and other equipment.
On Monday, select board meeting board member Eric Dodge proposed boosting the amount to 2 cents on the tax rate this year, raising nearly $130,000, since the department needs to replace several vehicles in the near future.
• Ron Stancliff, a member of the Morristown Conservation Commission, asked the board to add a half-cent to the tax rate for one year to raise just over $30,000 for the commission. That money would go into a fund to buy purchase land or conservation easements in the future.
• The board may increase the $30,000 set aside each year for a bridge reserve fund. The Halloween storm ripped out or damaged several culverts and bridges in town, and much of the current fund is being drained to cover repairs. So, the board will consider increasing the allotment this year to $50,000.