Possibly the most significant question discussed was whether it really makes fiscal sense for the town to salt away money in the equipment fund in order to prefund large purchases. Board member Earl Holtz, describing himself as “a fiscal conservative,” told the residents that he has concluded that dispersing the costs through lease-purchase agreements is the better way to go. “At least for now,” Holtz said, “while interest rates are so low.” Putting money into savings right now is, Holtz added, “like putting it in a mattress.”
Holtz’s argument proved persuasive. Not only was it agreed that the proposed contribution to the fund should be eliminated, a few people also suggested taking the money currently in the fund and applying it to other highway expenses. (By statute, money can be transferred into the highway budget, but cannot be transferred from the highway to the general fund.) Board members were not quite ready to take the change in policy that far, at least not without more thought.
Highway supervisor Bradley Rafus suggested reducing the amount of the projected gravel purchase, another significant cut, and a paving project may be deferred. Highway department wages are up by less than $20,000; the proposed appropriation includes a “cushion” of money to cover up to 100 more overtime hours than average, in case it’s a bad weather year. Health insurance costs are actually down a bit, thanks to the new health care law.
The selectboard bookkeeper’s position has been eliminated, but an assistant treasurer, a check on town treasurers, is now required by law, noted board member Lewis Sumner. Twelve thousand dollars has been tentatively budgeted for an administrative assistant. The selectboard’s duties have expanded, and there may be articles on the Town Meeting warning proposing the expansion of the board from three to five members and the creation of an administrative assistant position.
One item that cannot be reduced or eliminated is the replacement of Old County North bridge. Even with a state grant, the town’s share is substantial, but it is a one-time expense. The current estimate for the bridge is $280,000; construction bids will be opened on January 31 at 5 pm.
The proposed budget can be found on the town’s website, halifaxvermont.com. The board encourages anyone who has not yet done so to study it and contact a board member with any questions or comments. There will be one more chance to revisit the proposed FY2015 budget on Saturday, January 25, at 8:30 am, at a meeting already scheduled to finalize the warning for the March 2015 Town Meeting.