Waitsfield Approves Budget Increase

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(Host) Voters in Waitsfield have approved the school and town budgets that were recommended by town officials.

The budget comes with some financial pain for town taxpayers. Even though the elementary school budget increased by around 3%, residents will see a 14% boost in their tax rate. The reason has to do with an arcane provision of the Act 60 school funding law.

VPR’s John Dillon reports.

(Sound from meeting)

(Moderator) "Are you ready for the question? … The motion is to authorize an expenditure for the ensuing fiscal year of $1,379,756 for support of schools¿."

(Dillon) When Moderator Peter Joslin put the question to the floor, voters responded with a unanimous chorus of ayes.

The school board had done their homework. It had held informational meetings for the town and explained why the tax rate was going up by double-digits, even though spending was increasing by just 3%.

Residents approved the budget. But not everyone was happy. The tax rate will rise by around 14%. Last year, residents saw an 18% increase:

(Speaker at meeting) "Nobody’s addressing the main issue, which is that prices are going up so high that people like me, that are on a fixed-income, aren’t going to be able to live here any more."

(Dillon) Resident Judy Reese says the tax increases can’t be sustained by many people in town.

School Board Chairman Christopher Brynga agrees. But he says spending is not going up by much. He says the town has tried to hold the line on education budgets.

Waitsfield is a "sending" town under Act 60, so some of the money it raises goes back to the state for education spending.

But Waitsfield’s appraised property values have fallen below what the state’s sets as a so-called "common level of appraisal." Brynga says that as a result the town had to boost the tax rate.

The idea behind this provision of Act 60 is that towns should not be allowed to under-collect their property taxes by keeping property appraisals low:

(Brynga) "It definitely has to do with Act 60, specifically it has to do with the common rate of appraisal for Waitsfield this year going from roughly 92% to 88%."

(Dillon) The School coard chairman says it’s hard to justify to voters that even though budgets are only up slightly, the school tax rate must rise much more:

(Brynga) "You would think with an elementary budget increase of just over 3% and a total school increase for the district of just over 4 ¿ 4.5%, how is that you get 14-15% increases in your school tax? What we’re told this year is that it all has to do with the common level of appraisal. It appears that Waitsfield as a community is moving further back from that 100% appraisal rate."

(Dillon) On Tuesday, Waitsfield voters took the first step toward a town-wide reappraisal. They voted to set aside $15,000 to begin the reappraisal over the next few years.

Waitsfield also honored town residents who have spent years of service on town boards. Otis Wallis is nearing his ninety-eighth birthday. He’s spent a total of 40 years on various town posts, including 14 years as moderator.

As Waitsfield grappled with annual tax and budget issues, Wallis offered a timely perspective:

(Wallis) "I can tell you this: when you come to vote for something on money, if you wanted to increase by five cents on something, you had to fight like hell to get it. (Laughter) ‘Cause those days is when a dollar was a dollar, I guess. And today, it’s not worth a hell of a lot." (Laughter)

(Dillon) For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon in Waitsfield.

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