Proposed Bennington budget would increase tax rate 3 percent
By Patrick McArdle
STAFF WRITER | December 29,2012
BENNINGTON — Town staff are presenting a budget to the Select Board which would, if approved as it is, raise the tax rate about 3.25 percent, increasing tax bills by 3 cents per $100 of assessed value, according to Town Manager Stuart Hurd.
The proposed budget calls for $8,974,940 to be raised by property taxes. The budget approved by voters in March required $8,653,870 to be raised by taxes, about 3.7 percent less than the new budget.
Bennington’s tax rate is currently 0.9174 cents per $100 of assessed value. Under the proposed budget, the tax rate would be 0.9474. For the owner of a house assessed at $150,000, this year’s municipal tax bill would be $1,376 and under the proposed budget the bill would increase $45 to $1,421.
Hurd said he thought an increase of a little over 3 percent was “pretty darn good.”
The Select Board will meet on the first three Saturdays in January to discuss the proposed budget and make any changes before approving a final version to be put before voters at town meeting in March.
A copy of the proposed budget was given to the Select Board at their Dec. 17 meeting but Hurd said there had already been some changes made in order to reduce the tax impact on residents.
The biggest changes have come from the highway budget. In the first, a payment of $34,000 was removed from a line item for health insurance deductibles. In the second, a payment of $66,000 was removed that would have paid for interest on a $4 million loan, from a line of credit, the town took out to pay for costs associated with Tropical Storm Irene.
Hurd said in both cases, the town’s accountant, Melissa Currier, found that those bills could be paid with excess funds from fiscal year 2012 in the highway budget. The highway department spent less than expected last winter because the mild weather cut down on the cost of plowing roads and buying salt.
“It means that the amount to be raised by taxes for the highway fund is only going to increase about 0.8 percent or a little more than half a penny (on the tax rate),” Hurd said.
The town’s budget is divided into the general, highway and fire department funds. The latter fund is the smallest but is expected to decrease by $11,360 or about 3 percent.
The proposed budget and its estimated impact on the tax rate assumes that the town’s grand list will remain steady and not show any strong increase or decrease. But Hurd said he believed that was a pretty safe assumption because the grand list would have to increase by about $9 million to reduce the tax rate by a penny.
The proposal also does not account for any change in the tax rate that would come from the budgets of local schools, whose boards create their own budgets, or the money that may need to be raised based on the funding requests approved by voters. In March, voters approved almost $100,000 in appropriations.
The budget includes several new pieces of equipment like two new vehicles for the police department which would replace two vehicles which each have more than 120,000 miles worth of use. Two new trucks are proposed, one for the Recreation Department which plows all the town’s parking lots and one for the Highway Department.
Town staff are hoping to work on up to 10 miles of municipal roads and several sidewalks under the proposed budget.