Manwaring, who serves on the appropriations committee that reviews budgets, said that federal legislation and cutbacks would likely add to Vermont’s already high property taxes, while fewer federal grants will be available to the state. Manwaring said that she is focused this year on “changing the conversation” when it comes to education, and was appointed to that responsibility as a member of the appropriations committee. Manwaring says the state needs to stop distributing money on a base rate where each child is given the same amount, because no two children’s needs and education are exactly the same. Manwaring is also sponsoring legislation that will allow towns to create elected budget committees, and allow multiple towns to form a budget committee for their school district.
Hartwell, who serves as chair of the committee on natural resources, will be sponsoring a bill aimed at economic development which would require the state to pass a biannual budget, take a closer look at student debt, and require a 60% majority vote for changes to school budgets. Another bill Hartwell is putting forth will plan for Vermont Yankee’s departure, which he says will affect all of southern Vermont. The bill would allow for the mitigation of the $5 million that Entergy contributes to the state Clean Energy Fund annually over their 20-year license period. The money would be distributed to independent development corporations like the Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation, to help address job losses. “It’s a hopeful, innovative raid,” said Hartwell. “It would help us, and make Entergy look good as they go out the door.”
Hartwell also said that Vermont needs to focus on, and create change for, one of the state’s biggest problems: drug abuse and mental health issues. “ It’s getting completely out of control,” said Hartwell. “There’s a lot more people in jail now, and it’s a place of last resort.”
Selectboard vice chair Jim Burke asked the representatives if there was any effort being made to bring manufacturing jobs to Vermont. Hartwell said that the state does not actively pursue these companies as aggressively as other states. “Vermont has no coalesced mission for economic development.”
In other action, the selectboard heard from the town’s citizen budget review board as they inched closer to finalizing a budget. Burke asked the review board why they recommended putting $305,000 into the Town Hall fund, which is usually appropriated $5,000. Fred Houston explained that since the town had a surplus of $590,000, $305,000 should be used to ease the burden of the inevitable future move of town hall out of the flood zone and into another location. Houston said with the sale of tax properties the money should be reinvested. “The money is there,” said Houston. “You sold capital assets, so let’s put that money back into capital. If you have $320,000 in surplus from tax money that’s been collected, give a portion or all of that back to the taxpayers, but sale of capital investments should be put back into capital investments.”
Burke pointed out that the money made from selling tax property covers the taxes owed on the land for decades. “Until we have a plan (to move the town office), I don’t object to what you’re saying, but I don’t trust giving any political body too much money,” added board chair Meg Streeter.
Review board member Cliff Duncan agreed with Houston. “We heard from our reps, there’s no more money left, no rabbits to pull out of a hat,” said Duncan. “This is a great opportunity to take this huge amount of money, not use it for general expenses, but plan it on something we know we’ll need to spend money on.”
The third member of the budget review committee, Tom Consolino, said that the town should spread the money to multiple places where investment is needed, including the fire department capital fund. “We are loaded with future expenses,” said Consolino. “We should be planning for an anticipation of these expenses. Let’s anticipate by reducing some costs.”
While the board decided to wait on finalizing the fiscal year 2015 budget, the board did approve committing funds from the 1% option tax to both Wilmington Works and Southeastern Vermont Economic Development Strategies. Wilmington Works will receive $25,000 this year from the option tax fund, with the condition that the Wilmington Fund VT supply a matching cash grant of $25,000. SeVEDS will receive $5,628.