SWANTON VILLAGE — Emergency services budgets are increasing here due to a fire truck purchase and the need to recoup a 2019 loss for the Swanton Village Police Dept.
Neither seemed to surprise the village board members at the board’s last meeting, Jan. 13.
The fire department talked at length about how the roughly $1.4 million purchase of two new fire trucks would, for a matter of years, spike the department’s budget ahead of a 2018 vote on the purchase. Another issue is an approximately $5,500 increase in dispatching costs.
Village officials expect that department’s budget to increase just shy of eight percent, while the SVPD budget increases just over nine percent. Lynn Paradis, the assistant village manager, said overtime was the significant driver in that increase.
“We’ve got to recoup that in taxes,” she told the board at this Jan. 13 meeting.
Conversely, the general and highway department funds face relatively minor increases — less than a percent for the general fund and less than a quarter of a percent for the highway department, about .16 percent.
In total, officials expect the village budget to increase just below five percent, about 4.82 percent.
Dollar-wise, that translates to an increase of about $40.66 per $100,000 of assessed home value.
The village board did not adopt the proposed budget at this last meeting, although Paradis said she believes these calculations are final. The board plans to adopt the budget during its next meeting on Monday, Jan. 27.
Looking over the budget sheets, Neal Speer, the village president, remarked, “You know what’s good not to see on this budget is the auditorium downtown.”
Speer was referring to the Memorial Building, which the village sold to Gordon and Debbie Winters for development into the Veterans Memorial Ace Hardware in 2017. That building’s condition had rapidly deteriorated beyond what the village could afford to maintain, and Speer clarified at this meeting he was happy not to see the maintenance costs on this year’s budget, even as the totally renovated building nears completion within the next few months.
Separate from the general fund and the property tax, users of the village’s two utilities can expect to see no rate increase in their electric rates and a small one for water and wastewater.
Paradis shared relatively good news about the Orman Croft Hydroelectric Facility. The village just made its final payment on what Paradis called “a very large bond” in 2019. The bond paid for the original hydro plant upgrade in the early 1990s. The village’s annual bond payment was about $500,000.
Combine that with the village’s savings on purchase power, now that the hydro facility’s rubber dam is back in place, and the village is saving a total of around $600,000 per year.
Adam Paxman, one of the three village trustees, asked Paradis to clarify that those savings do not constitute a profit for the village. Paradis said those funds are not profit, but net income, and that “any net income is what they consider you would use for fixed asset purchases and bond payments.”
Paradis said she was worried at the start of the budgeting process that the village might need an electric rate increase this year. But given the net income, she said, that’s not necessary.
Not that the Orman Croft facility is now debt-free. She said the village has another four years of annual bond payments on another early-1990s bond, about $440,000 per year, plus interest, as well as three more bonds related to plant upgrades over time.
All in all, Paradis said, the hydroelectric facility still has about $6 million worth of debt. But she said that’s a significant improvement over the $15 million in debt the hydro facility had when Paradis began work for the village.
Village trustee Chris Leach echoed that sentiment.
“From my standpoint, the fact that we got the dam done and installed and working, we’ve done major upgrades to the plant, our poles and wires are in pretty good shape ... in general, we’re on the uphill side of it,” Leach said. “This is a really good sign.”
But Reg Beliveau Jr., the village manager, also cautioned the board that the hydro facility is about to go through the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s relicensing process, the cost of which is likely to be significant.
“There’s an open door on that,” Paradis agreed. “We have no idea what that’s going to look like.”
And while the water department’s rates are stable — “What we’re billing out is covering what we budgeted,” Paradis said — the sewer department’s fixed customer charge faces a rate increase of about $2, from $35.71 to $37.86, and the variable rate from $3.89 to $4.11.
Paradis said she was careful to keep the increase as slight as possible to save ratepayers from “a big jump.”
“It still doesn’t cover all of our expenses,” she said. “But it comes very close.”
That didn’t seem to surprise the board.
“We’ve been kind of skating around the fact that we might need to do some upgrades at the sewer plant,” Leach said. And Lynn agreed that was exactly right — she said she hopes slightly increasing the rates now will cover future debt service after the upgrades’ completion.
But that’s not the sole driver in the sewer department’s budget increase. Paradis said the village now spends more on chemicals due to new, stricter phosphorous regulations.
All in all, Leach said, “Compared to other municipalities, we’re still pretty fair. When I ask my friends in Burlington and Rutland [about their rates], other places, they’re amazed.”
Paradis said she expects the sewer rate increase to go into effect by March 1.
The board’s Jan. 27 meeting begins at 7 p.m. at the Swanton Village Municipal Complex.