2012 Chester budget calls for slight tax hike

Chester voters will address the town budget and a number of budget articles at Town Meeting, to begin at 6 p.m. Monday, March 5, in Town Hall, 556 Elm St. Elections will be from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 6, also at Town Hall.

by Stephen Seitz 

Chester taxpayers will see a slight increase in the municipal tax rate this year. According to the proposed 2012 town budget, the town will need to collect an additional $63,404.93 to meet expenses. “That will be a penny and a half (more) on the tax rate,” said Town Manager David Pisha. “But last year we lowered taxes by 5 cents, so it’s somewhat of a comeback from that.”
The current municipal tax rate is .5684 cents per $100 of assessed valuation, which means a home assessed at $200,000 would pay $1,136.80. At the potential new rate of .5834 cents, that would rise by an even $30. Overall, according to the town budget, town expenses amount to $3.85 million, with $1.4 million in revenues, leaving $2.3 million to be collected through taxes, grants and fees.

School tax to be determined

The municipal tax rate does not include the school tax rate, which is two-thirds of a property owner’s tax bill. “It’s too early to say what the (overall) tax rate will be,” Pisha said. The state is on a July 1 – June 30 fiscal calendar while the town’s adheres to the January to December calendar. That means that the town must wait until the summer for the state to set the criteria for towns to calculate the school tax rate.
In 2011, Chester’s Homestead school tax rate was $1.2062 while the Nonresidential rate was $1.3471.

The town tax rate also is shaped by the size of the Grand List, which is the listing of all taxable real estate parcels within a jurisdiction. “A large growth in the list would have the effect of decreasing the amount of tax increase,” Pisha wrote in an email. But growth in the Grand List has been dropping since 2008, when it hit 1.9%. In 2009, it grew 1.7%; 2010 saw growth drop to .4% and 2011 saw another drop to .2%. “The Town rate has remained basically flat with a downward bias over the past several years,” Pisha said in his email.

“The town still had a surplus at the end of 2011 in the General Fund (between $57,000 and $61,000), albeit less than hoped for. … due (to expenses incurred by) Tropical Storm Irene that have yet to be reimbursed by FEMA and a less-than-anticipated return from the end of year tax sale.” Pisha said the town had hoped to bring in $40,000 from the tax sale properties.

Following Irene, which hit the area on Aug. 28, 2011, the town wound up spending $1.1 million for damage cleanup, for which it had to take out a loan. “We set up a separate fund (for Irene),” Pisha said. “Right now, the money trickles in (from FEMA). We usually get four highway payments from the state each year. Last year, they gave us some of that early. We got five payments last year, so we didn’t get one in January.”

Department by Department

“The unusual fact is that all the major town departments are requiring less net funding in 2012 than compared to 2011,” Pisha said in a follow-up e-mail. Each department’s higher revenue projections cut the overall net expenditures expected in 2012.

Overall, expenditures in the proposed 2012 operating budget for the entire Public Safety sector are rising about $25,000 over the proposed 2011 budget, with the Police Department up $18,000 to $423,000 and the Fire Department up $6,000 to $84,480. Ambulance service and Emergency communications remain relatively flat at $96,500 and $31,000 respectively.

The bright side is that the actual outgo for the 2011 Public Safety operating budget was down by $23,000 over what had been proposed, while actual 2011 revenues rose $51,000 over projections. For the 2012 Public Safety revenues – from ambulance fees, court fees, ski traffic reimbursement etc. – the town is projecting $192,000.

Within Public Works, revenues in 2011 hit a high of $500,909 thanks in large part to accelerated state aid and an anticipated surplus, together totaling $400,000. Most of the remaining income comes in the form of diesel sales to other town agencies. For 2012, the town is projecting revenues of $285,520, with a much lower surplus predicted and fewer state aid payments. The projected 2012 operating budget for Public Works, including Solid Waste, is $1.05 million, down from a proposed 2011 budget of $1.2 million and actual expenditures of $1.225 million.

Expenditures under the heading “General Government,” including salaries, other compensation and stipends for town manager, town clerk, listers and selectboard members, the cost of holding elections and the day-to-day cost of running of a town office, is projected at $891,555 for 2012. Revenues — made up of everything from dog licenses to recording fees — are projected at $237,350. The projected 2012 expenditure is slightly higher (by $13,000) than the actual outgo for 2011, but $7,000 below the budgeted amount for last year. Revenues for 2011 actually came in at $245,800, about $13,000 more than projected.

The 2012 Culture and Recreation operating budget, projected to be $282,000, includes Chester rec facilities upkeep, various sports camps, salaries as well as parks and cemetery upkeep and the Whiting Library. Anticipated revenue for 2012 is $24,420 from rec programs and $9,000 from the elsewhere.

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About the Author: Steve Seitz is an author, journalist and film critic based in Springfield,VT. He has reported local news in the Upper Connecticut River Valley for many years. Steve has been interviewed on NPR's "The Story" for his knowledge of cinematic music. He also has interviewed such cinematic luminaries as James Earl Jones, Jerry Lewis, James Whitmore, Matthew Lewis ("Neville Longbottom" from the Harry Potter films), and an original cast member from every "Star Trek" series, among many others. He is working on other novels.

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