With the goal of having a budget completed by Jan. 21, the Shelburne Selectboard this week focused on whittling down the town government’s wish list for the coming year.
A lengthy meeting Tuesday night featured a detailed presentation from the Shelburne Police Department and Shelburne Communications Center explaining its staffing, overtime and holiday pay details. Police and dispatch services account for about 28% of draft budget for fiscal year 2020-21.
Town officials and the selectboard have been working for the past month or so to craft the budget for voters to consider on Town Meeting Day, March 3. A public hearing will take place on Jan. 14, with the final vote Jan. 21 to approve the ballot-ready budget.
So far, the challenge is to incorporate department requests and general needs with what town officials hope will be a reasonable increase in property taxes. Last year, voters approved a budget of $9.6 million which required a tax increase of 5%.
The current working draft budget would need a tax increase of roughly 6 to 7% based on discussions this week – a number that’s still high for the selectboard.
Police Lt. Mike Thomas explained details of police and dispatch scheduling and pay rates to answer questions from the board about overtime and holiday pay.
Board Chair Jerry Storey questioned whether hiring more staff might be more cost-effective than regularly relying on overtime to staff police and dispatch 24/7.
Social media policy revision
In an apparent nod to recent developments in Burlington involving social media use by public officials, the board voted to revise its social media policy for town employees.
The new language in the Shelburne policy states: “Employees are prohibited from establishing anonymous and/or false identities for social media accounts for any purpose related to their work for the town and are prohibited from commenting anonymously on social media on any aspect of municipal operations or town government. Employees must exercise professional judgment to ensure that their conduct is beyond reproach in all social media interactions.”
Krohn introduced the new language saying, “Who would have thought we’d need such a thing? But in response to an issue that’s occurred recently in another Chittenden County municipality, it seemed prudent to amend the social media policy section of the personnel policy to prohibit anyone from establishing anonymous social media accounts or commenting anonymously on municipal affairs.”
Burlington Police Chief Brandon del Pozo resigned last month after admitting he used a Twitter account with a false name to engage an online critic of his department. A subsequent replacement for del Pozo admitted to using a Facebook account with a false name, too.
Poet stepping down
Shelburne Poet Laureate Rick Bessette announced at Tuesday’s meeting that he would not seek another term as Poet Laureate.
Bessette is the town’s first resident to hold that role for the past four years, doing many readings of his original work at community events, working with school students and promoting poetry at Pierson Library, senior living centers and more.
“It’s time for a new voice. Maybe a new kind of poetry,” Bessette said. “It’s been an incredible four years.”
Bessette said he has discussed the transition with Library Director Kevin Unrath who has offered to form a committee to search for candidates. A special program featuring school children Bessette has mentored at Shelburne Community School was planned for Wednesday evening.
Other news from Tuesday’s meeting
• Natural Resources and Conservation Committee Chair Gail Albert advocated for the board to include funding for the town’s open space fund in the budget. Voters traditionally have voted on that as a separate item, in recent years adding $30,000 or so into the savings account that helps buy land or development rights to preserve open land. Town Manager Lee Krohn suggested skipping the open space funding this year and returning to it next year. Storey and other board members disagreed and said they are likely to support keeping the item although they haven’t settled on an amount yet. Albert and the committee requested $50,000.
• The Bike and Pedestrian Paths Committee and the Village Pedestrian Safety Group also asked for funding.
• Talks of funding for economic development continue, with $25,000 currently in the draft budget to fund it. The board briefly discussed how it could fund a part-time staffer or a consultant.
Draft budget discussions are expected to continue next week at the board’s regular meeting.