VERGENNES CITY COUNCIL – BUDGET WORK SESSION
JUNE 28, 2019
Mayor Jeff Fritz called the recessed meeting from June 25th to order at 6:00 p.m. at City Hall in the Opera House. Those in attendance were:
Mayor Jeffrey Fritz City Manager Matt Chabot
Deputy Mayor Lynn Donnelly City Clerk Joan Devine
Alderman David Austin Reporter Andy Kirkaldy
Alderman David Small 34 Signed in Visitors
Alderman Mark Koenig
Alderman William Benton
Alderman Lowell Bertrand
PROPOSED FY2020 CITY BUDGET: Mayor Fritz explained the process he was going to be following for this final budget work session.
Alderman Mark Koenig moved to allocate $15,000 from the Water Tower Fund for replacement of the boiler at City Hall. The motion was seconded by Alderman David Small with all voting in favor.
Deputy Mayor Donnelly reported she is willing to compromise in areas so that a budget can be adopted. She recommended using $50,000 from the Fund Balance to supplement the budget and reduce the tax increase. She also suggested $13,500 be taken from the Watershed Fund to be used towards a portion of the cost of the new recreation director position. It was her position that the police station bond in the amount of $72,500 should continue to come out of the Water Tower Fund and there can be no reduction in workforce.
Alderman Mark Koenig moved to allocate $12,500 each year from the Water Tower Fund for the next four years for the sidewalk project from Macdonough Drive down to the Otter Creek bridge. Alderman David Small seconded the motion with all voting in favor except Alderman Benton who abstained as an abutting property owner and Deputy Mayor Donnelly who was opposed.
Based on discussion Alderman Koenig moved to amend his motion and remove the $15,000 from the Water Tower Fund, remove the $12,500 from the Water Tower Fund, and reduce the removal of two fulltime police officers from the budget to the removal of one fulltime officer. The motion was seconded by Alderman David Small and followed by more discussion.
Alderman David Austin stated there were a lot of unknowns and no revenues have been discussed. Looking at the proposed increase in the tax rate is not acceptable. People do not want the tax rates to go up and they want to honor police coverage. He suggested just setting a tax rate. Alderman Benton stated he is having a difficult time rationalizing the removal of two fulltime officers but supports removal of at least one based on correspondence he has seen from the public. Alderman David Small advised he also has heard the same from the public who supported a reduction in staff so he supports the amendment. Deputy Mayor Donnelly felt the City Council was making decisions before any explanations have been heard. We have not heard what happened to our Fund Balance carried forward. She totally thinks it was incorrectly done and we should give the police department the two officers they are asking for.
City Manager Chabot reported since Tuesday’s meeting they have discovered an incorrect formula in the Fund Balance calculation and transposed numbers in the grand list values. The estimated Fund Balance is $91,598 to bring forward changing our tax rate need to .903 cents on his proposed budget. Deputy Mayor Donnelly advised with a $91,000 Fund Balance there is no need for a reduction in police officers if we use $50,000 of that surplus and take $13,000 from the Watershed Fund for the recreation position and leave the $72,500 for the police station bond coming from the Water Tower Fund. This is not the time to change things, she stated. Alderman Lowell Bertrand agreed. Alderman Mark Koenig did not feel paying the police station bond out of the Water Tower Fund was a public improvement. He advised voters approved a tax increase to pay this bond. Deputy Mayor Donnelly questioned why we would not continue this for another year so as not to rift two employees. Alderman Koenig advised, in retrospect, we overrode what the voter told us to do. Alderman Small looked at it from a sustainability angle; it needs to be addressed at some time. Deputy Mayor Donnelly suggested this be a transition year. She advised the City Council received the budget late and couldn’t pursue cheaper avenues but felt we needed to preserve what we have built in this city. The bond should never have originally come out of the Water Tower Fund, she agreed, but it won’t hurt to do it one more year and just get through this year. Alderman David Austin felt we needed to provide a level of service we can live with and afford.
Police Chief George Merkel advised a reduction in manpower affects shift coverage, increases overtime, and jeopardizes the safety of the officers and the city of Vergennes. It is not safe to have a single officer shift; it adversely affects everything including more officer stress. It is a bad idea to reduce the department, he stated. Mike Daniels asked if the City Council had looked at freezing wages, the loss of revenue from tickets, making cuts in other departments before taking this step. Mel Hawley advised the Fund Balance has gone from negative $69,000 to $91,000 in the black; that is embarrassing. He suggested switching $72,500 of other capital improvements to the Water Tower Fund and put the police department bond back in their budget along with the two officers. You don’t misplace two officers with a 2-day notice, he stated. Our tax rate is .835 cents now so if it goes up a little and the police department is intact, that will work. Cheryl Brinkman commended the City Council for looking at the budget the way that they were. She felt the police department was out of proportion for our size city and the City Council was very brave to attempt to fit it to our town. She advised she totally supports their effort. Kevin Rooney addressed the vitality and economically strong position of the city. He advised Vergennes was always safe growing up here and suggested looking at on-call time for the officers, looking into what State police coverage is available and compare population and size with other departments. How did we go from 4 officers to 8 was his question. Combining forces would be awesome too, he felt. A 15 percent increase in insurance coverage is high; look into alternative coverage. City Manager Chabot advised regional policing, fire, and rescue are the wave of the future and we have had huge outpouring of information on this as well as dialogue in the community. He stated everything is on the table for next year.
Peter Garon questioned the necessity of a police department with 8 fulltime officers. He felt our coverage was well above State and national coverages. Amy Barr advised the City Council is in a tough situation and the timing is lousy. She encouraged them not to think too hard on fear based comments because we are not going to fall apart with two less officers.
Alderman Bill Benton felt Mel Hawley’s point had warrant. Alderman Koenig’s version of the budget calls for .892 cents and Deputy Mayor Donnelly’s version of the budget calls for .920 cents. Alderman Austin stated it is not like this is forever. We need to stop making negative decisions that impacts us.
Alderman Matt Koenig moved to withdraw his original motions to allocate $15,000 from the Water Tower Fund for a boiler at City Hall and to allocate $12,500 each year for the next four years from the Water Tower Fund for the sidewalk project. Alderman Benton seconded the motion. Alderman Mark Koenig then moved to withdraw his amendment to the original motion. Alderman Small seconded the motion. We are back to the original budget proposed by the City Manager.
Deputy Mayor Lynn Donnelly moved to adopt a City tax rate of .9200 cents. Alderman Mark Koenig seconded the motion. The City Manager will rework his budget to comply with projected revenues and a .9200 cent tax rate and we will adopt a budget at the next regular meeting. A vote on the motion showed all voting in favor except Alderman David Austin.
ADJOURNED: Alderman Lowell Bertrand moved to adjourn the meeting at 7:45 P.M. Alderman Mark Koenig seconded the motion with all voting in favor.
Vergennes City Clerk