Letter: Unreasonable Increase in Hanover

To the Editor:

The Hanover Finance Committee voted 5-2 against the proposed Hanover town budget. The majority concluded that the budget represented an unreasonably steep increase, beyond what is justified by inflation or the downshifting of costs from the state. In the fall of 2012, the Finance Committee called for a budget that would increase the town’s levy in line with inflation. (The Consumer Price Index is 1.3 percent; the Municipal Cost Index is 1.7 percent.) The committee was disappointed to see the proposed budget calls for a 3.3 percent increase in the town’s tax levy and a 7.2 percent increase in spending. The majority noted that the downshifting of expenses from the state to the town accounts for only a 1.9 percent increase in the tax levy. As a result, the majority recommends that the voters reject the proposed budget and approve, in its stead, a budget in which the total tax levy increases at a rate closer to inflation.

Further, the majority believes that the budget should be amended to return to taxpayers the excess Undesignated General Fund balance, which the town currently holds at levels beyond the target balance of 5 percent to 10 percent. The town’s guideline states that if a fund exceeds the targeted balance — representing overtaxation in prior years — the excess should be returned to taxpayers “over no more than two fiscal years.” Based on the proposed budget, this will be the third consecutive year that the Undesignated General Fund balance is in excess of 10 percent. The proposed budget returns only half of the excess funds this year ($120,000).

The minority supports the budget because, although the Selectboard did not return all excess undesignated reserve funds to taxpayers this year, it made other prudent cost-containment decisions. For example, the Selectboard omitted a seemingly modest initiative to install a small sidewalk because the project would trigger significant and permanent increases to maintenance costs. The minority considered the board’s decision to return undesignated reserve funds to taxpayers over two years, rather than one, an acceptable strategy that would provide capacity to address unforeseen expenses.

Kristi Fenner, Chairwoman

Heidi Postupack, Vice Chairwoman

Hanover Finance Committee