City budget proposal holds line on taxes

Council will revisit sidewalk bond issue

Michelle Monroe

By Michelle Monroe

Executive Editor

Just
The Facts

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ST. ALBANS CITY — On Monday night, St. Albans City Manager Dominic Cloud presented the city council with a budget that includes the purchase of a new fire department pumper truck, a doubling in sidewalk repair funds, and payments on the city hall renovations approved in November. And no new taxes.

The proposed budget results in a tax rate of $0.8117, exactly the same as the current rate. The council reviewed , but did not approve the budget Monday, with two city council members asking for additional spending reductions.

The council will meet again to discuss the budget and consider a possible sidewalk bond next week Wednesday.

Budgeted expenditures are up $421,400 to $7.83 million. However, the city’s Grand List has increased about one percent, not counting the major projects undertaken within the tax increment financing (TIF) district. Municipal property taxes on those projects are all being used to pay for the TIF bonds used for streetscaping, brownfield cleanups and the construction of the municipal parking garage.

The one percent increase in the Grand List comes from “smaller projects you would expect to see in a community where people are investing again,” said Cloud.

Of the $421,000 budget increase, $80,000 is for sidewalks. This doubles the city’s current spending on sidewalk replacement.

Another $68,200 is dedicated to payments for the city hall renovation bond, and $34,000 is proposed for payments on a new pumper truck.

“It’s all about infrastructure,” Cloud said of the proposed budget. “We scoured the budget to come up with money for sidewalks.

Salaries for the city as a whole are down 3.5 percent to $3.8 million from a high of $3.9 million last year. One position has been eliminated in central dispatch.

Chief Gary Taylor, who serves as both fire and police chief, told the council the city, “This is really a lean and mean budget.”

Despite the renovation bond and the proposed new truck (see accompanying article), debt payments to be made from the general fund are down $26,000 to $277,000, assuming the city pays off the general city loan it used to purchase The Brickyard, as planned. The Brickyard was a tavern located on Federal Street. It was demolished to help make room for the new state office building. The payoff funds will come from the general reserve fund the city has created primarily from previous budget surpluses. Paying off the roughly $140,000 remaining on the loan will save the city $25,000, according to finance director Tom Leitz.

In the proposed budget, several departments see budget reductions or level funded:

  • city clerk’s budget is down $629;
  • finance and assessing are down a combined $6,700;
  • planning and development is down $8,700;
  • the police department and animal control are down $36,700;

* central dispatch is down $99,311.

The administration budget is up $11,700. The city has two general fund programs, which are self-supporting. The Community Justice Center (CJC) and the parking garage are included in the general fund budget but are not supported with municipal property taxes.

The CJC’s $509,000 budget is supported with a combination of grants and fees for its services. The parking garage’s $91,000 budget is paid for with parking fees. The budget includes $37,800 to be placed in a capital reserve for future maintenance. As promised, the garage “is not leaning on the general fund,” said Cloud.

Sidewalks

 

The proposed budget for the public works department is up $52,000. However, that includes doubling the amount spent on sidewalk replacement from $80,000 per year to $160,000.

 

The council heard from Peter Cross, whose firm, Cross Consulting Engineers, has examined every sidewalk in the city and created a plan for its replacement if needed. The sidewalk project was confined to replacing existing sidewalks and curbs.

 

In some areas, primarily on the western side of the city, new drains, catch basins and curbs were included in the plans to better manage stormwater.

 

If all of the city’s sidewalks in poor or fair condition were replaced, along with curbing, the cost would be $8.2 million.

 

Replacing the 9.4 miles of sidewalk and 6.3 miles of curbing in poor condition over two years would cost $3.8 million. Tackling the 10.8 miles of sidewalk and the 9.7 miles of curbing in fair condition would require $4.5 million.

 

The council is considering asking the public to approve a bond for $4 million to replace the sidewalks in the worst condition. Payments on the bond would be $240,000 and add two percent to the tax rate, raising it to $0.828.

 

For a homeowner with a house valued at $200,000, a sidewalk bond would raise his or her tax bill $32.50.

 

The council has not made a decision about putting a bond on the ballot. However, several council members said on Monday night that they support the budget as proposed, but would like time to more closely consider how a sidewalk replacement program should be structured.

 

As with the budget, the council will further consider the issue next week.

 

Two members of the council, Tim Hawkins of Ward 1 and Scott Corrigan of Ward 2, called for further reductions in the budget.

 

The other council members were generally pleased with the budget as presented, among them was Ward 5 representative Ryan Doyle who said, “Look at the value we’re providing, especially when we’re looking at walkability and sidewalks.”

 

Mayor Liz Gamache reiterated more than once that the council is seeking public input before finalizing the budget and making any decisions about sidewalk spending. She urged city residents to reach out to the council. “We’re listening. We’re eager for the feedback,” she said.

 

On Monday night the council agreed to meet next Wednesday, Jan. 21, at 6:30 p.m. to further consider the budget and possible sidewalk bond. The public is urged to attend.