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Barnard to Vote on $1.8M Budget

Barnard Town and School Meeting will be held on Tuesday, March 5 at 10 a.m. in Town Hall.

Barnard — This year is a time to face financial realities in Barnard with a proposed town budget that is 55 percent higher from the previous year, an increase that the Selectboard chairman says is a truer estimate of what the town spends than was shown in past budgets.

The town’s $1.82 million budget for the 2014 fiscal year may seem like a steep increase from the $1.18 million approved a year ago, but it’s much closer to the reality of town expenses, said Selectboard Chairman Tom Morse. Also, higher than anticipated costs for road maintenance have contributed to the rise in proposed spending.

“It is higher,” Morse said. “Our budget this year, we’re trying to get more in tune with reality rather than what we wish.”

In addition to the budget, the town is also asking for $15,000 to conduct a feasibility study on constructing a new fire station and emergency services building. The existing fire station is small and outdated, Morse said. The new proposed site would be near Town Hall.

T he tax impact will likely be less severe than the bottom line figures suggest, Morse said. The amount to be raised by taxes will go up about 29 percent, from $643,028 approved at last Town Meeting to $826,590 proposed for fiscal year 2014. But even that increase appears more inflated than actually is the case, as there was also a onetime expense of $100,000 approved in FY13 for recovery costs relating to Tropical Storm Irene.

If all spending were approved this year, including the fire station article, taxpayers would have to support $98,562 in additional spending for FY14, a 15 percent increase.

Barnard is reappraising its property values this year and so the exact tax impact is not certain, said Town Clerk and Treasurer Diane Rainey.

Barnard’s current municipal tax rate is 23 cents per $100 of valuation, which is among the lowest in Windsor County, according to the Vermont Department of Taxes.

“Because of surpluses ... we’ve had a somewhat unrealistic tax rate for the last three years running,” Morse said.

The Barnard School District is looking at a $1.05 million budget that reflects a relatively modest increase of 1.9 percent over the current year. School Board Chairman David Green said the board had tried to keep overall costs within the rate of inflation. If approved, the budget is expected to add about 2.4 cents on the tax rate, or $48 on a $200,000 home, Green said.

However, the school budget will be split up into two separate votes — “Part A” for the bulk of the spending at $1.04 million and “Part B” for the $6,658 difference. The reason for this is a state law that was intended to call attention to districts where spending was rising faster than the state deemed necessary.

The districts that are required to have two votes must separate the budget into two amounts — the first for whatever portion came in under the state threshold and the second part for whatever amount it was over. In Barnard’s case, the district came in $6,658 over.

The reason Barnard is affected is not because of a big increase in expenses, Green said, but rather because it lost a tuition student, which resulted in higher per-pupil spending. That tuition student paid $10,000 per year, additional revenue that would have covered the $6,658 difference.

“If we had that one tuition student, we wouldn’t have the two (votes),” Green said.

In the past five years, just 10 school districts have needed to separate their budgets into two votes, said Stephen Dale, executive director of the Vermont School Boards Association.

Of those cases, there has been only one split decision, he said. Six times the entire budget was approved and three times it was voted down on both parts, Dale said.

This year, due to a variety of reasons, many more districts are having to split their school votes, Dale said. There’s no official tally yet, but he expects 20 to 30 districts will be affected. Schools held spending tight during the recession, but now, many are facing salary and benefit increases that are overdue.

“Basically, what we have is quite a bit of pent-up demand,” he said.

School and town officers are chosen from the floor in Barnard. On the town side, a three-year Selectboard position held by Tim Johnson is up for election. There is also a three-year term on the Barnard School Board and one year remaining on a three-year term for the Woodstock Union High School Board.

Chris Fleisher can be reached at 603-727-3229 or cfleisher@vnews.com.