MONTPELIER — While the City Council last week discussed postponing one municipal bond for the budget vote this March, the city expects to keep two bonds on the ballot, and voters could also see two school bond proposals and two budget lines for the city school district.
The discussion took place Wednesday as councilor Thierry Guerlain said the overall effect of city budget lines in addition to others — like the school district spending requests — could be a burden on taxpayers. But council member Angela MacDonald-Timpone said she wasn’t hearing that people were having problems paying their tax bills and that voters have overwhelmingly supported both the city and school budgets.
“I think it’s like anything else,” MacDonald-Timpone said at the Wednesday council meeting. “Food goes up, gas goes up. You know, taxes go up.”
“Not everything goes up, People’s income doesn’t go up,” Guerlain responded, pointing to a Wall Street Journal article from that morning that showed the median household income in the United States is still well below what it was several years ago prior to the onset of the recession in 2008.
Before city administrators formulated their final bonding proposals, City Manager Bill Fraser said municipal officials had discussed the overall need for infrastructure upgrades. A committee explored strategies and bonding goals earlier this fall as well, and the full council has also previously deliberated on what an acceptable increase in the budget would be, with members suggesting increases of anywhere from 0 to 3 percent.
Council members settled keeping within the rate of inflation of 2.2 percent.
The proposed city budget calls for a rate increase of 2-cents, meaning the municipal property tax on a house valued at $223,000 would increase by $44.60. That increase, however, does not include the tax impact of other budget lines to be considered by voters, such as the school budget and separate funding requests by the Kellogg-Hubbard Library and Green Mountain Transit Agency.
MacDonald-Timpone said city tax increases over the last nine years haven’t reflected residential taxpayer reimbursements from the state. City Council member Tom Golonka. however, said a slight tweak in that formula could translate into major increases for city property owners.
The city expects to place two bonds on the Town Meeting day ballot, one for improvements to sidewalks, storm drains and retaining walls. The other bond to be voted on would finance the replacement of a sewer line. Softening the blow for Montpelier taxpayers, however: some 66 percent of the sewer bond costs are expected to be paid for through contracted services with the town of Berlin.
The school district also expects to propose two bonds for building repairs, and school board members have requested the administration bring back a draft proposal that would present the budget vote in two separate lines. Under a law passed by former Gov. Jim Douglas, districts that increase spending beyond the rate of inflation plus 1 percent must present their budget to voters in two lines.
The law has encouraged many school districts to cap their spending increases in order to keep the budget vote to one line. Montpelier Superintendent Brian Ricca has recommended keeping the school budget within the one-vote threshold.
City officials noted that over a nine-year period since 2004, Montpelier’s municipal tax bill has increased 38 percent while the school bill has grown by 52 percent.
This year’s proposed increase for the city is 4.2 percent, but that’s not entirely in new taxes. A pipeline for the new city heating district will be supported by several businesses, making it pay for itself, according to the city. When that program isn’t included in the budget calculations, the city’s proposed tax increase is 2.05 percent.
The city will hold another hearing on the new budget at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at the City Council chambers.
In other news:
Election:Citing the demands of her job, MacDonald-Timpone said she would not run for the council this March when her term expires.
Parking: Councilor Andy Hooper noted the city’s parking fund has shown deficits of $20,000 the last two years. To address the shortfall, the city expects to increase fees for parking in city-owned and city-leased lots.
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