Town Budget Informational Meeting-NOT

Dave Fuller speaks on Article 5

In 30 plus years in town I have never voted NO on a town budget (I don't think I've ever even voted no on a school budget) but after Saturday's meeting to discuss the town budget for FY 2019, I'm voting NO on Article 5 on Tuesday March 6.

I did not attend the School Meeting, I feel confident that the information in the town report is accurate because the school board works with a Budget Advisory Committee. The town has a Budget Committee but it currently consists of one person and the town manager. I'm not sure this is what our legislators had in mind when they wrote

Title 24 Subchapter  14  

§ 1147. Advisory budget committee creation; duties
If a municipality creates an advisory budget committee as provided in 17 V.S.A. § 2646, the committee shall evaluate the municipality's budget and make recommendations to the selectboard for the budget based on its findings. (Added 2013, No. 106 (Adj. Sess.), § 2.) (Cite as: 24 V.S.A. § 1147)

This meeting on Saturday raised more questions for me than it answered. Dan Boyer began explaining Article 5.

Select Board members Kelly Murphy, Amy Beth Main, Tom Leach and Dan Boyer
A question was asked about the library director serving as the chair of the parks and recreation commission. Select board chair Kelly Murphy said she nominated the library director (she serves on the commission as the school athletic director) and that his term may be up when the commission reorganizes.

I asked for an explanation of the library director's 6.3% wage increase (when most town employees are receiving 2% increases) and the eight hour work week increase. The answers given were unsatisfying and confusing.

As to the the wage increase, it was said that the library director, during the interview process, was promised that after two years his salary would increase.

I was the library trustee board secretary in September 2015 and I have all the search committee documents that the trustees were copied on and copies of the offer letter from the search committee and the official offer letter from the trustee chair to the candidate, Mark Richardson. There is nothing in writing saying this increased was promised, there is no documentation. There were several members of that search committee in the audience and not one stood to dispute my statement about the lack of documentation of this salary increase.

The question came up about the increase in hours and why the increase included "expanded services including recreation, community events and a community newsletter."
Weathersfield Proctor Library Trustee Chair Rick Bates
Library trustee chair, Rick Bates said that even with a  6.3% wage increase this library director salary was "below average in Vermont for directors with masters degrees." He felt is was a "fair wage not a generous wage." Why was this wage increase for the library director first discussed by director and the town manager not the library trustees. This is completely backwards to previous salary negotiations for the library director.

In the past the director speaks with the trustees, the trustees analyze the library budget,  determine what's fair and what the taxpayers will support and negotiate a wage. Then the trustees go to the town manager and select board with their budget. The entire process was handled improperly and I cannot support it.

The discussion on the floor turned to defending the library itself and why it should be a community center and recreation center. However, the discussion should have centered the 14% increase of the library budget when other department's budgets are being level funded or cut.

Dave Fuller took the floor and directed the taxpayers to turn to page 130 of the town report. This is the Auditor's report section. The accounting practices used over the last year are fraught with deficiencies. The report states "The Town's Reserve Fund fund balances were incorrect." "The Town netted grant revenue with the related expenditures during the year. This nets out the revenue and expenditure as if they did not exist and results in the understatement of both revenue and expenditures." It goes on stating "The Town's accounts payable balances were incorrect." "The deficiency in the internal control structure could allow the spreadsheets that are used by the Town to contain errors." The town report also contains a letter from the town manger to the auditors explaining how the deficiencies will be corrected. Have they been corrected for the current spreadsheets in the town report? I hope so.

Fuller asked about the fund balances and how the were being accounted for. The town manager responded by saying that the fund balances were "being looked at." Can someone please tell me what the $95,481 in Unspecified Reserve is?

I know what the $26,638 in the Library Reserve Fund is. It is money voted on by the taxpayers in previous years to be used for capital repairs/improvements to the library building. When the trustees want to use money from this fund for a project, say to insulate the attic space above the ceiling or removing mold from the basement, a letter was written to the select board requesting the release of these funds. Who oversees the Unspecified Reserve and did the taxpayers vote to set up this account?

Fuller also noted the delinquent tax collection report on page 85 and asked why there haven't been any tax sales recently? The town manger said that there will be a tax sale soon but the select board was advised by the town attorney to hold off until 2018.

Charles Horton stood up and asked why town employees are not paying 20% toward health insurance benefits (similar to the school teachers plan.) The town manger responded by saying the town and schools are on different plans. He looked into applying a similar plan for the 15 town employees but it would actually cost taxpayers more.

Darlene Kelly, the new Finance Director, spoke and said new accounting practices are being set up and she will be addressing all the issues brought up by the auditors.

John Arrison asked about Article 6 (the town highway budget) and asked why there was no money budgeted in the Paving Repairs line item. The town manager said they are moving toward a new reserve philosophy for capital expenditures.

A series of slides were shown outlining this new philosophy.

The town manager said that Reservoir Road will be repaired first because it's "closer to failure that the (Weathersfield) Center Road." Arrison pointed out that the Weathersfield Center Road is de-laminating,  and asked what the estimate for repair before failure would cost. The town manager said $600,000.

I asked about the cuts in the two fire departments budgets of $5,000 each and why only $5,000 was being asked for in Article 10 for a Fire Equipment and Gear Fund. I was told that the fire commission, the two fire departments, the town manager and the select board will be looking closely at the two departments budgets. I wanted to know if $5,000 was enough given the high cost of turn-out gear and other safety equipment to protect these volunteer fire fighters and again wasn't given a satisfactory answer.

On Saturday, voters in Woodstock voted down their town budget in a 91-48 vote, the estimated tax rate increase of 4.2 cents per $100 of valuation was too great for a majority of voters. See the Valley News Sunday front page March 4, 2018 or view the article ONLINE.

In Weathersfield, if all appropriations for both the town and school are approved, the estimated combined homestead and municipal tax increase of 14.6 cents per $100 of assessed valuation would increase property taxes on a $200,000 home by $292 to $4,716. (10 cents is from the  school budget and 4.6 cents from the town budget and articles.)

With all the surplus and the errors in accounting, I cannot support this FY  2019 budget. I don't believe I've ever seen the budgeting process in town so messed up. I'm not blaming anyone but until the finances are cleaned up, we should not be voting on Tuesday. I for one need assurances that what is presented in the Town Report accurately reflects what was voted by the taxpayers (in the past) for expenditures and that these funds were properly managed and accounted for and that the projected budget figures accurately account for each departments use of these funds in the proposed FY 2019 budget.

On a happy note, Loraine "Cookie" Shand was honored with the Weathersfield Service Award (see page 4 of the Town Report)

Cookie Shand and Kelly Murphy

Cookie Shand

And Wes Hazeltine was thanked for 45 years working for the town highway department, he'll retire as highway supervisor in a few weeks.

Town Website Down

At press time the town website was down
Hopefully, it will be up and running before we vote Tuesday for last minute information collection.

Australian Ballot
Tuesday, March 6 
10 a.m.-7 p.m.
Martin Memorial Hall
Rte 5 Ascutney

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