Stowe has begun running the numbers to determine how much it will cost to run the town in its next fiscal year.
The town is basing early budget-crafting on the assumption that the pandemic will be on the wane at the start of the new fiscal year, July 1, but also acknowledging the austerity necessitated by coronavirus.
The town selectboard has asked the administration to hold the line on taxes, and the current projections call for a roughly $137,000 increase over current spending, an increase of about 1.4 percent. This would bring total budget expenditures to just over $13 million, with about $9.9 million coming from property taxes and the rest from other revenue sources.
There is some room for an increase in spending, based on an estimated 1.5 percent increase in the overall property grand list, which could bring in nearly $147,000 in new tax revenue, according to town manager Charles Safford.
Safford said union and personnel rules allow for a minimum 1.5 percent pay increase for town employees, but otherwise department heads worked to keep their departments level funded while maintaining the current level of services.
Belt-tightening could make things more difficult down the road, especially efforts to replace a 29-year-old fire department ladder truck that is four years past its recommended retirement age. If things return to normal next year, the town will likely need to ask voters to approve a $1.1 million bond to buy the truck.
The pandemic has also underscored the need for improved IT services, as more people worked remotely and selectboards and other governmental bodies had to hold meetings electronically.
Safford wrote a summary of the other parts in the proposed fiscal year 2022 budget, but there are still moving parts in the budget until the selectboard adopts it.
The board plans to resume budget talks at its next meeting, Monday, Jan. 11.
Also at that meeting, town officials are expected to take a hard look at the town’s common level of appraisal, the state-level figure that determines how closely town-appraised property values align with market values.
The common level of appraisal is a key factor in determining a town’s education tax rate, and skewed numbers can result in higher taxes.
Virtual town meeting
This is not a normal year, but Stowe town officials want to bring some semblance of normalcy to the traditional town meeting, held every year on the first Tuesday in March.
Under Gov. Phil Scott’s continuing executive order barring large gatherings — among other coronavirus-related safety measures — towns’ annual business is likely to be conducted solely by Australian ballot. But Stowe’s selectboard wants to hold an online community forum on Town Meeting Day, March 2.
The idea is to hold the forum from 8-10:30 a.m. in order to foster a dialog on emerging issues. The board will continue the discussion at the Jan. 11 meeting, but there is a tentative list of topics that could be discussed:
• Should the town “opt-in” and allow the retail sale of marijuana?
• Is it more important to hold the line on property taxes or improve services?
• Should Stowe increase its annual paving budget by increasing the amount to be raised in taxes?
• Should Stowe enact a 1 percent local sales tax? It already levies a 1 percent tax on rooms, meals and lodging receipts.
Additionally, the board floated the idea of an online survey, which would ask for Stoweites’ thoughts on such things listed above, and more, such as traffic control, capital improvements and the level of financial support for various community service organizations, which is now approaching $95,000 annually.
The Jan. 11 selectboard meeting starts at 5:30. An agenda with a link to the meeting’s Zoom channel will be available on the town’s website ahead of the meeting — townofstowevt.org.