Budget planning has begun for the 2020 fiscal year.
The selectboard provided its input for the budget planning process at last week’s meeting. This year, department heads were asked to try and keep budgets level, due to four prior commitments the town has to put resources toward.
The first of these, according to a memo from town manager Aaron Frank, includes funding to support a grant to hire three extra weekday, daytime firefighters for the Colchester Center and Malletts Bay fire departments.
These three positions were partially funded starting in March of this year with the last budget proposal, and the town has applied for a federal grant to help with costs, according to Frank. About $36,000 is needed in FY20 to continue funding these positions if the town receives the grant.
Another financial commitment is a community social worker program to provide assistance to the police to help people who need social services. The town’s share is $20,000 for FY20 and will increase to $40,000 in FY21.
The final two earmarks include hiring an additional public works highway employee and extra funding for the transportation service the town runs for elders and those with disabilities.
Frank said it’s not unusual for the town to ask departments to try and keep funding level.
“The selectboard values sustainability, which includes affordability,” he wrote in an email to the Sun. “The department heads and staff also value sustainability. It means exploring, adjusting and trying things out.”
According to a memo to the selectboard from Frank, Colchester has the second lowest tax rate in the seven inner Chittenden County communities. He wrote this comes from growth and investment in the community as well as active savings in the government budget.
Glen Cuttitta, director of parks & recreation, said the department just started looking at its budget after the Labor Day weekend. He said his department will have to consider consistent staffing to save costs, including seasonal labor in a time of low unemployment.
“We have seasonal staff that work eight months of the year, some work nine months of the year,” he said. “It’s challenging to get those folks interested in working that amount of time.”
Department heads have until the end of next week to appeal for extra resources from the town manager, after which the budgets will be finalized and submitted to the selectboard in November.
Frank said he’s unsure what extra resources departments might need funding for in FY20. He noted that last year the town decided on providing an additional $200,000 for police, fire and rescue services rather than road and path maintenance because public safety was made a priority.
“Ultimately it will be the decision of the voters on what financial resources the town will provide for services to our residents, visitors and businesses,” Frank wrote. “All I can do is work with others develop a budget that tries to balance service needs with affordability, work with the selectboard to refine it and then let the voters decide if we chose the correct balance.”