VERGENNES CITY COUNCIL – BUDGET WORK SESSION
JUNE 18, 2019
Mayor Jeff Fritz called the budget work session to order at 5:30 p.m. at City Hall in the Opera House. Those in attendance were:
Mayor Jeffrey Fritz Reporter Andy Kirkaldy
Deputy Mayor Lynn Donnelly Chief George Merkel
Alderman David Austin Mike Daniels
Alderman David Small Erin Roche
Alderman Mark Koenig Andrew Fritz
Alderman William Benton Alex Newton
Alderman Lowell Bertrand Betsy Benton
City Manager Matt Chabot City Clerk Joan Devine
The Mayor apologized to Chief Merkel regarding the proposed budget cuts in his department and resulting talk on the street prior to proper notification to him.
PROPOSED FY2020 CITY BUDGET: Alderman Mark Koenig moved to adopt the City Manager’s proposed FY2020 budget. Alderman David Small seconded the motion to allow for discussion. City Manager Chabot advised a penny on the tax rate will raise $22,500 in revenue. Because health insurance is going up $94,400 this year, a 4.4 cent increase will be needed just to cover medical costs. He reported he met with department heads to see what their needs were do he could figure out how to absorb that increase. He went through the budget explaining rationale for increases or decreases.
Manager Chabot reported he ran percentages on police department budgets compared to overall budgets in our local area to discover we are not close proportionately. Between Bristol, Middlebury and Shelburne the highest percentage of overall budget was 15 percent yet ours was at 40 percent. He is proposing the elimination of two officers to save $140,000 and putting the police station bond payment of $72,500 back in the budget where it belongs to reflect true expense of the department. The Water Tower Fund is the only discretionary funds the City has and the $72,500 absorbs too much of the available funds.
The Public Works Department and Sewer Department shared an employee whose entire benefits were charged to the sewer budget. That was not working for Rick Chaput or Jim Larrow so the employee is now in the Public Works Department budget and will be crossed-trained to back up the Sewer Department. Internet service at Public Works and the Wastewater Treatment Plant needs to be improved. VTrans is paving Route 22A this year and will replace signs. Sidewalks line item is up to include $12,500 for the sidewalk project on Main Street to the bridge. In General Expenses we have eliminated $45,000 for recycling which we no longer offer and recreation funding has been increased $15,000. Voter appropriations are approved by the voters; the Boys & Girls Club was increased.
The Fire Department equipment increase will allow for breathing apparatus improvement. The bonded debt and interest for the fire truck was also added. The proposed Sewer Department budget allows for improved internet service and the wages and benefits decreased as an employee went to the Public Works Department. The broken auger cost of $10,000 has been added to the budget; this is the last auger before a major upgrade is needed. The budget for the Sam Fishman Pool is proposed following the adopted 2-year trend; a decent guideline.
Manager Chabot advised he has not adjusted wages for himself, Joan or Melissa but estimates another $5,100 would be needed based on 2.91% raises.
Deputy Mayor Lynn Donnelly reported she has been on the City Council 6 years or more and we have always taken into consideration the school tax rate increase before setting our own; we need to end that and take care of the City. We have neglected recreation, our buildings, the pool, etc. We need to look at what seniors need and look beyond the school kid, she stated. To decrease our Police Department by 2 officers is a horrible decision. Chief Merkel has brought new respect to the department and they meet the needs of our community. One officer is paid through a grant, she stated, so we may need to raise 1 or 2 cents on the tax rate to maintain the department. She challenged the City Council to leave the two officers in place. Mayor Jeff Fritz advised this proposal is in no way a reflection on our Chief or his officers. Alderman David Austin reminded everyone that we lost $100,000 in revenue from Job Corps but they continue to consume our services. It is unreasonable for the City Council to try to solve economic issues in a community of 2,600 people. When you increase population and condensation there are impacts, he stated. We make decisions based on criteria; what is good for our community. Other towns have declined opportunity to participate so now they need to call someone else.
Alderman Koenig advised between the sidewalk project, recreation, and other improvements mentioned leaves us treading water; we need more revenue. Alderman Benton felt changes were needed in police personnel but done incrementally; not all at once. He would like to make it more palatable. Erin Roche thanked the City Council for grappling with this tough issue. She was grateful for all the resources of Vergennes including our professional police department; maybe reduction is not the best solution. Mike Daniels, former City Alderman and Mayor, stated many City Councils over the years battled to not raise taxes. He felt we will be taking four steps backwards if we reduce our force and will see crime increase.
Police Chief Merkel advised he sent an email today to each of the City Council members regarding the proposed personnel cuts in the budget. He has eight fulltime police officers (one is paid through a grant) and one part-time officer. He does not feel it is safe to have one officer on duty alone. Loosing two officers will set a bad precedent in his department and crush morale. We will have trouble in the future hiring replacements when needed, he stated, and asked the City Council not to reduce his force.
Alderman Donnelly advised we would need four cents more on the tax rate to not reduce the force. We also will need to raise the tax rate for a recreation director. Alderman Austin felt we were already at capacity for taxes. Alderman Bertrand advised any increase in medical benefits gets passed to the employee where he works to off-set increases.
Mayor Jeff Fritz reported he has been working with Manager Chabot and they will be looking to significantly increase sewer assessments come the first of the year to prepare for our 30 million dollar upgrade we need at the wastewater treatment plant. He advised we also need matching funds for the planning grants. Manager Chabot advised Rick Chaput’s raise was 5.5% compared to others at 2.91%.
RECESSED: Mayor Jeff Fritz recessed the meeting at 7:10 P.M. until Tuesday, June 25th, at 5:30 p.m.