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From the Desk of
Town Commissioner Chris Staiger

(2/2012) Well, here we are in February already! Hard to believe, I know. It’s almost as surprising as how lucky(?) we have been to escape a ton of snow this year... January’s town meetings tied up some loose ends from 2011 and began our focus on the financial outlook for the next budget year beginning July 1, 2012. Not a particularly rosy picture (as one might expect) but you need to take the bad with the good.

As most property owners are probably aware, the state recently sent out the latest three year reassessment of property values. This and the actual tax rate are the two key components of your annual property tax bill. Overall, assessments appear to be down approximately twenty percent on average. While this may be a benefit when you open your tax bill in July, it will have a negative impact on town revenues. State and county payments to the town budget have declined substantially over the last two years, but our revenues from property taxes have remained about the same. Now this portion of the budget will also decline. Serious reductions were made to balance the current town budget and the projected savings will carry over to the next budget year also. But, at this point, it is unclear how much of a new hole will open due to the upcoming reduction in property tax revenue.

In addition to difficult structural cuts to this year’s budget such as reducing one community deputy position, the Board of Commissioners also reduced the amount budgeted to ‘discretionary’ or ‘estimated’ expenditures by the Mayor or town staff. We now review and approve additional expenses on a case by case basis. These have included repairs to the diving board necessary for opening up the pool this spring, moving town radio equipment off of private property due to a request from the property owner, approving a project to re-line sewer pipes in an effort to reduce the amount of storm water entering the system, or rehabbing town signs to include the founding date and tie in to the 150th anniversary of the civil war. We have initiated a fund dedicated to improvements on the Town Square and are trying to better define just what funds are approved for what projects in order to guarantee that these decisions are made by consensus. When expenses are up and revenues are down, it’s critical that more than one viewpoint is taken into account when expenditures are made.

Commissioner Joy has requested that the town government consider fully funding the town’s ‘After School Program’ for children in grades one through five. The program currently runs for two hours a day three days a week from October through March and is intended as a recreation program not daycare. It can accommodate up to 20 children – but in the past, in response to strong demand, has accommodated up to 40 children in two, two day shifts. Started by Mayor Carr some years ago as a way get children off the sofa in the winter months and promote social skills, the program was initially funded by both the county and the town. The county pulled out in 2010 after grant funding dried up.

In an effort to keep the program going two years ago, Mayor Hoover and the Board of Commissioners increased town funding but established a $35/month fee per child to help replace some of the previous county contribution. When the fee was established, participation dropped almost immediately from forty to twenty and has since dwindled to just nine children. Given the past success of the program, we are giving serious consideration to removing the fee and increasing the town funding from approximately $13,500 to $21,500 for the next budget year. Fully subsidized participation would be limited to town residents. Other additional details are yet to be decided. We can then re-evaluate the program after a year.

Following up on last month’s column: customers of the water and sewer system have received a flyer in their quarterly bill describing proposed changes to the sewer billing rates. Changes to the sewer billing rates are required to fund the construction and operation of the new wastewater treatment plant (WWTP) to be built over the next two years off of Creamery Road east of US 15. The new WWTP is required due to increasingly stringent environmental regulations at the state and federal levels. The town government has reviewed proposed rate structures at three public meetings – adopting a proposed implementation plan on December 6. A "Public Information Meeting" will be held at the town office on Thursday, February 16. The design engineers and town officials will be there to answer questions from the public. A "Public Hearing" will be held at the town meeting on February 20 for final consideration of the proposed ordinance changes / rate increase structure. Please plan to attend these meetings for additional information or to provide feedback.

Please contact your elected officials with your questions and concerns! Sincerely, Chris Staiger

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