Selectboard Trying to Find Ways to Save Money
At last week’s budget meeting, the Northfield Selectboard considered a series of measures that would help to augment the town’s income without having to raise additional taxes.
For example, the municipality currently charges the towns of Roxbury and Berlin a per capita charge of $17 per resident for Northfield Ambulance Service (NAS) coverage of Roxbury and West Berlin (Riverton).
It was proposed at the earlier meeting that this be raised to $25 per resident, which would raise this line item from $16,580 to $21,270.
Chair David Maxwell said that he thought that the new per capital charge would be more in line with what other ambulance services in the area would charge.
Manager Schulz has contacted municipal officials in Roxbury and Berlin and there was
general agreement that the new amount was reasonable.
He added that there were other charges that the Selectboard had been considering such as raising special detail coverage, i.e. sporting events, graduations and the like where special services need to be provided.
Manager Schulz said that he has contacted NAS Chief Lawton Rutter about this and Chief Rutter did not feel a major increase in the amount now being charged ($75 per hour) was a good idea since event organizers might be able to find cheaper alternatives. He did say that he did not oppose a slight increase.
Chair Maxwell noted that the proposed FY 2017/2018 revenue amount for this is $8,000 so this is not a major revenue source.
Manager Schulz said increasing cemetery fees was another suggestion. He discussed this
matter with Cemetery Commissioner Bruce Wright and Mr. Wright will research what other Vermont municipalities charge for burial lots, internments and setting markers as compared to Northfield. This information will be forwarded to the Selectboard so it can be determined whether the rates should be raised and how much.
Chair Maxwell said that he believes that the amount collected for perpetual care needs to be increased to cover the actual costs of long-term cemetery care.
Finance Director Laurie Baroffio noted that half of the amount collected for burial lots goes into a separate bank account to cover this.
Selectman Kenny Goslant said that he really doesn’t care what other communities do since it is clear Northfield doesn’t charge enough. He recently learned that Norwich University charges much more for its private cemetery on Dole Hill. He added that cemetery maintenance costs go up every year and he felt limited funds had caused a backlog of maintenance in our cemeteries.
Chair Maxwell feels cemetery fees do need to be revisited including the different amounts charged to residents and non-residents. Additional revenue here also will not impact the budget greatly but could prevent perpetual care costs from getting out of hand in the future as the number of available lots decreases.
Another issue that came up previously was the amount that the Town Highway charges the Water Department for use of its backhoe and dump truck. Manager Schulz spoke recently to Utility Superintendent Patrick DeMasi about this and Mr. DeMasi said the amounts now in the proposed FY 2017/2018 budget for backhoe ($6,900) and dump truck ($1,000) rental are rough estimates since he cannot predict when waterlines might break or other such emergencies occur. He does keep a log book that records usage hours.
He said that he estimates that the Water Department will use the backhoe for 270 hours in FY 2017/2018. Manager Schulz said the FEMA equipment rental rate for backhoes is $40 per hour so the line item for backhoe rental should be raised to $10,800.
Ms. Baroffio said the Inter-Departmental Charges policy will have to be amended to make this change. Selectman Goslant doesn’t feel the FEMA rate is especially relevant and would rather look at what commercial rental companies in the region might charge. He also felt that the Water Department puts a lot of wear and tear on the backhoe while laying down pipe during the summer.
Chair Maxwell would like it determined whether or not using the FEMA rate is fair. Also, if the Highway Department doesn’t use the backhoe that much, perhaps its ownership and maintenance costs should be transferred to the Water Department. As for the rental of dump truck, this line item also would be increased to about $3,850.
Selectman Goslant feels that the $35 per hour FEMA rate for dump truck rental also is too low compared to actual costs.
Manager Schulz noted there had been a discussion of how much the municipality charges
the School District for its employees removing salt from the Town’s storage shed to put
down on its parking lots and nearby sidewalks.
The Selectboard asked that the amount taken should be better tracked.
Selectman Lynn Doney thought it would be prudent to have someone from the Highway Department on hand when the salt is taken away.
Manager Schulz has asked Highway Foreman Trent Tucker to have these removals scheduled of time so they can be observed. Chair Maxwell feels this is a procedural matter.
On other matters, Manager Schulz stated the Utility departments pay a total of $51,000 into the Town General Fund as an annual PILOT (Payment in lieu of Taxes) payment that covers the amount that they would have to pay in property taxes for the parcels on which its infrastructure, such as the NED substation on King Street, are located.
Ms. Baroffio noted this amount has not changed for several years and might need to be revised.
Chair Maxwell suggested that the amount could be tied to any tax rate increases. As there is no time to discuss this fully during the present budget sessions, this matter will be revisited later.
It was noted that the Highway Committee met yesterday and decided to recommend that the street sweeper be used until the end of its serviceable life and not replaced. The municipality then would contract out the semi-annual street sweepings to a private company.
Chair Maxwell asked how much this would save the municipality and Manager Schulz said that the immediate saving would be the $11,250 that was going to be put in the Highway Department’s Capital Equipment Plan this year to fund the sweeper’s eventual replacement.
Chair Maxwell asked what was the present value of the street sweeper. Manager Schulz was not sure as it is about fifteen years old.
Chair Maxwell suggested that if the sweeper was sold while it was still operational, the funds received could be used to start contracting out the street sweeping as soon as possible. The remaining funds could be put towards the replacement of vital highway equipment.
Ms. Baroffio said that if the street sweeper in sold before the end of the next fiscal year, additional funds would need to be put in the Highway Department’s operational budget to cover the cost of the contracted sweeping.
Selectman Goslant said the Highway Committee never looked into selling the sweeper but will meet again to look into it before the next budget meeting. A recommendation will be made at that time.