Norwich budget proposal would hike spending by 16%

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 11/27/2020 9:32:03 PM
Modified: 11/27/2020 9:33:45 PM

NORWICH — Members of the Norwich Selectboard say they intend to carefully review — and possibly trim — a 16% budget increase put forward by Town Manager Herb Durfee last week.

Durfee’s proposed spending plan for fiscal year 2022, which includes larger investments in public infrastructure, totals $5.78 million.

That amounts to an increase of $792,114 over the budget approved by voters in March.

Durfee wasn’t available this week to comment on his budget proposal, which would have to be approved by voters at Town Meeting. However, he told the Selectboard last week that Norwich is standing “at a precipice” and needs to make significant investments in infrastructure.

Durfee’s proposed budget proposes a roughly $667,500 increase in public works spending, which includes an additional $215,000 for paving and $116,000 for bridges.

“There are some services, facilities, capital projects that I think our department heads are recommending to you that we need to get done in this particular community and therefore there are some significant costs associated with that,” he said during a Selectboard meeting held via teleconferencing software.

Durfee said he understands that budget the figures are “very scary” but wants the Selectboard to hear from department heads before deciding on a path forward.

Budget work sessions will start next week, and the town manager has told his staff to attend every meeting.

The budget proposal also includes an $83,150 increase to help pay for both a full-time finance director and an assistant. The police department would see a $23,725 increase, and the fire department would get $34,745 more.

It’s not yet clear how much the plan would impact Norwich’s municipal tax rate. Durfee estimates property tax revenue would rise by about 18.6%, but it’s unlikely that the increase would be uniform because property taxes are capped by income in Vermont.

Still, the possibility of a large tax increase concerned Selectboard Chairwoman Claudette Brochu, who worried that residents won’t be able to bear the burden during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I understand that Norwich is a wealthy community. However, that wealth is not shared by all,” she wrote in an email Tuesday.

State revenue, which impacts the availability of town grants, is down this year because of the pandemic, Brochu said, adding that it’s unclear whether Norwich will continue to see the levels of state aid it did in the past.

It’s also too early to tell how financially stable residents are and although revenue in the fall was “on-target,” it’s not clear that will continue, she said.

“Every day, we read appeals for help for people who are struggling. While other towns in the area are looking to level-fund or are proposing nominal increases, we are looking at a significant increase,” Brochu said. “There is a disconnect here.”

Selectboard Vice Chairman Roger Arnold said he “appreciates” the proposed budget’s call for more infrastructure spending.

But, he said, the board is still waiting to hear more from Durfee and department heads before setting goals. The group still doesn’t know the spending plan’s impact on taxes or exactly how it would impact designated funds that help pay for projects, Arnold said on Tuesday.

He also pointed out that this budget season “is a little more unique” because the town will work to build a capital improvement budget that identifies and plans for spending in future years.

“We’re going to really be looking strongly at the operating budget and our capital budgeting program in really integrated ways,” Arnold said.

The Selectboard is scheduled to start its review of the budget — starting with presentations by the fire department, emergency management and public works — at 6:30 p.m. Thursday.

Information on how to access the meeting is at Norwich’s website at norwich.vt.us/selectboard-agendas.

Tim Camerato can be reached at tcamerato@vnews.com or 603-727-3223.




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