The annual city election is right around the corner. The actual election day is Tuesday, March 2, with polls open at City Hall from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. As with the November general election, ballots will be mailed to all registered voters in advance to allow for a safe, socially distanced election. This year’s election includes three city council seats, school board seats, and others.
City and school budgets, library funding, and the downtown improvement district tax rate are all on the ballot. Also on the ballot is the question of whether Montpelier will allow retail cannabis sales once the state has completed adopting regulations.
Continuing with recent practice, the annual report will not be delivered to every home. It will be out within a week and will be available in hard copy at City Hall, the library, the senior center, and the schools. It will be available online in searchable PDF form at the city’s website: montpelier-vt.org
The new winter parking system has, so far, been working pretty well. We really appreciate the cooperation and effort from city residents to move their vehicles to alternate sides of the street each day. It took a bit of a learning effort, but things are going relatively smoothly. The city has adjusted some trouble spots in conversation with local neighbors.
Both the city and school budgets faced huge uncertainties this year. The city had a major budget gap due to lost revenues. The schools had to overcome a significant drop in the Common Level of Appraisal and unknown information about state funding. In the end, the combined tax increase of the city and school budgets is projected to be only 2.1 percent with both entities maintaining their core services and functions.
The city’s proposed budget is laid out in more detail in the annual report. Here is a basic summary:
The FY22 budget presented unique challenges because of the fiscal uncertainty. The City Council and the Leadership Team approached the budget with the following guiding principles:
- Close major budget gap due to COVID-19.
- Implement Strategic Plan as possible.
- Pandemic impact would be viewed in a one-year horizon.
- Considerations for residents and businesses financially hurt by COVID-19.
Key Budget Factors
- A $1.44 million budget gap necessitated a different approach.
- This fiscal year contained a 27th pay period (most years have 26, the 27th occurs once every 12 years). This explains why personnel costs in most departments seem high.
- The heavy loss of parking revenue required $525,000 in reallocations of personnel costs from the parking fund to the general fund. This also adds to general fund personnel costs in those departments.
Property Tax Impact
- The net result of revenues and expenses is that $10,458,512 in property tax revenues are required for the municipal (non-school) portion of the budget and the ballot items. This is a slight increase of $61,322 (0.6 percent) from FY21.
- Requires a 0.7 cent (0.6 percent) increase in the property tax rate. For the average residential property, this represents an increase of $16 on the average tax bill.
- FY22 General Fund Budget totals $14,706,595, which is a decrease of $371,695 (−2.5 percent) from the comparable FY21 spending plan.
- FY22 General Fund non-tax revenues total $4,248,083, which is a decrease of $433,017 (−9.3 percent) from FY21 non-tax revenues.
- Revenues from the State of Vermont, such as highway aid and Grand List maintenance funding have been assumed to remain at their present funding levels. Payment-in-lieu-of-taxes (PILOT) revenue was adjusted down by $230,000 to protect against state revenue losses. Local rooms, meals, and alcohol tax revenues were adjusted down by $67,000 to reflect the downturn in business in local restaurants and hotels.
- The Capital Projects, Equipment and Debt Service Program is funded at $1,925,649. This is a reduction of $474,341 (−19.8 percent) from FY21. Of this, $866,427 is in annual funding, $590,183 is in existing/projected debt service, and $469,049 is for equipment.
- The Capital/Equipment Plan had reached the targeted total to bring funding levels to a projected steady state of maintenance and improvements and accommodate the new bond proposals. The FY22 reduced proposal is in direct response to COVID-19. If things return to “normal” and revenues return, we will restore funding in this area. After FY22, we will return to steady-state funding, consider annually adjusting equipment and/or capital funding consistent with CPI, and look at a possible short-term bond to catch up from these years of cutbacks. The Capital Plan includes funding for the acquisition of 12 Main Street, a new City Hall elevator, and an upcoming property reappraisal.
Personnel: The total number of Full Time Equivalent employees (FTEs) is 119.65, however, 6.0 FTE positions are being held vacant in the FY22 budget. Positions kept vacant are one police officer, one Finance Department account clerk, one DPW engineer, one DPW street worker, and two Recreation Department maintenance workers.
Operating: As with prior years, many lines have been held tight within fiscal guidelines. Operating expenses are reduced by $110,603 (−3.2 percent). Department operating budgets remain very tight after multiple years of reductions.
- Police: This budget retains the social worker housed in Washington County Mental Health Services, shared with the City of Barre, and partially funded with grant money. The police budget continues the contractual relationship with Capital Fire Mutual Aid System for dispatching services. The Police Department continues sharing administrative support with the Fire Department. As per a school board decision, the School Resource Officer position has been eliminated, which reduces the number of sworn officers on the department from 17 to 16.
- Public Works: DPW is holding one engineer and one street position vacant. They are focusing on implementing the stormwater master plan, completing the major upgrade to the water resource recovery facility, the Montpelier in Motion transportation plan, and the new parking garage.
- Government Services: The Finance and Manager departments are holding one finance position vacant.
- Community Services: The budget continues implementing the Community Services department plan, which consolidates work between the Senior Center, the Recreation, and the Parks/Tree departments. The combined tax appropriations for these three functions is decreased by $125,000 from FY21. This decrease is mostly due to the retirement of two full-time recreation maintenance positions, which are held vacant. Parks staff will assist with summer field maintenance as an interim measure until revenues return.
- $131,050 for the Community Fund.
- $50,000 for the Housing Trust Fund (down from $110,000).
- $45,000 for the Homelessness Task Force.
- $60,000 in funding for the Downtown Improvement District is shown in the budget as both expense and revenue.
- Montpelier Alive is funded at $32,600, although $7,500 for July 3rd and a fall celebration has been removed.
- $5,000 for the Montpelier Energy Advisory Committee.
- $10,000 for Social Equity & Justice Advisory Committee.
- $40,000 for the new GMT MyRide program (replacing the circulator bus).
- $0 for the Montpelier Development Corporation (down from $100,000).
- $0 for the Public Art Program (down from $20,000).
- $20,000 for Capital Area Neighborhoods (up from $0).
Budget Process: The City Council approved an updated strategic plan in May. This plan and quarterly progress updates can be found on the city’s website. In October and November, the council reviewed preliminary financial projections and provided policy direction on a number of items to the City Manager for preparation of the budget. The manager, after working with the full leadership team, presented a recommended budget on Dec. 2. The council reviewed the budget on Dec. 2, Dec. 9, Jan. 6, Jan. 13, and Jan. 21. After these discussions, which included changes, the council voted unanimously to present this budget to Montpelier residents.
Thank you for your interest in Montpelier city government. Please vote on March 2 or by mail before. Feel free to contact me at email@example.com or 802-223-9502 with questions or concerns. All the above-referenced documents, including the budget, the annual report, and the ballot items, are available in their entirety at montpelier-vt.org.