The Town Manager has released his proposed 2022 municipal budget for the Selectboard’s consideration. Some costs are increasing, some are decreasing, and some are staying the same. Let’s take a look.
Sidenote has already documented that the line item that covers the bond payment for Route 132 will have to increase significantly in 2022 and 2023. The proposed budget has this expense up from $118,000 in 2021 to $261,950 in 2022, or a roughly 121% increase over last year.
Sidenote also reported that the appropriation for Upper Valley Ambulance would increase 14.2% in 2022. This holds true, with the expense increasing from $119,048 in 2021 to $135,975 in 2022.
Another sizable increase is coming from Orange County taxes, which helps fund the Orange County Superior Court. The anticipated increase is 13.57%, up from $97,320 in 2021 to $110,523 in 2022.
Another notable increase, up roughly 30%, yet a difference of only a few thousand dollars, is staffing needs at the Transfer Center.
I have increased personnel cost for the Transfer Station to fund four part-time positions, one coordinator and three assistants. Besides staffing the Transfer Station on Saturdays, the staff also work during the week for assorted reasons. This past year we have had staff volunteer additional hours, which we cannot expect them to do on a continuous basis.
Wages for Transfer Station employees, grouped into one line item, are up from $17,107 in 2021 to $21,810 in 2022.
Large increases in the budget are offset by decreases. Everything that can be trimmed has. For example, Selectboard Advertising, which is used for posting minutes and other notices in the Journal Opinion or Valley News, is being cut from $3,500 to $2,000. Expenses related to dues, meetings, and travel have been cut from $500 to $300 in the Recreation Department.
There are some larger cuts, too. The Town’s contribution to the Town Hall Capital Fund has been cut from $20,000 to $10,000. This fund is used for everything from the foundation to the roof of Town Hall, including the computers and servers used by Town employees.
While the police budget is drafted to increase 6.66%, primarily resulting from a $39,711 increase in wages for the two patrol officers, the Town Manager’s budget has the Chief of Police’s salary going down $10,650.
With the recent announcement of Chief Evans resignation, effective January 1, 2022, further modification of the budget might be required prior to Town Meeting.
The Town has yet to negotiate a new contract with the local police union, and there is an outstanding healthcare grievance that could increase budgeted costs as well.
By far, the biggest cuts are coming from the Department of Public Works. The Public Works Director position has been completely defunded; however the line item for road crew wages increased to include funding for five, a net budget decrease of $6,987. (Despite available funds, keeping the road crew staffed at five has been a challenge for over two years; the team has now gone through two winters with four crew members).
Contract Services, used to pay for everything the road crew doesn’t have time or expertise to do themselves and that isn’t part of a specific project such as the re-building of Route 132, is being cut from $60,000 in 2021 to $35,000 in 2022. This leaves less room for unexpected costs such as culvert replacements.
Guardrails are being cut by $5,000, although several hazardous sections of guardrail were replaced in 2020. Then-Town Manager Guy Scaife said there were no other immediate areas of concern and this line item could be reduced in the short term. It was cut $10,000 in 2021, making for a total reduction of $15,000 (or 75%) since its $20,000 funding level in 2019. Guardrails for Route 132 are included in those project costs.
Winter Road Supplies (sand and salt) is also seeing a large reduction. These costs can be dependent on weather (how often the road crew needs to apply sand/salt and therefore how much the Town needs to buy); however an analysis by Guy Scaife in 2020 showed that Thetford spent more on sand and salt than neighboring towns, and roughly double that of Newport, which is most comparable to Thetford in terms of mileage of gravel and paved roads. The road crew has successfully been able to reduce costs over the past two years. The budget is down from $165,000 in 2019 to $125,000 in the proposed 2022 budget. Year-to-date expenses are just over $60,000, but that includes costs from January onwards of the 2020/21 winter.
The Town’s contribution to the Tree Fund is also proposed to be reduced by $5,000, or 50%. This fund is used to fund the removal of hazardous trees from the Town right-of-way; $5,000 is enough for one or two trees. This is such an important topic that we will cover it in an upcoming Sidenote article.
Staying the Same
The Town’s contribution to the Timothy Frost Fund is remaining the same at $0. The Town is waiting on an engineering report that will outline the structural work the former church building will require. Until then, the Town is paying just over $2,000/year in insurance and utilities while the building sits.
Also proposed to stay the same is a $4,500 annual stipend paid to Thetford’s Emergency Management Director. This stipend was instituted in 2021 due to the large number of hours that were required of this previously volunteer position in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Recreation Coordinator position is also staying the same. The proposed budget is keeping this role at part-time rather than increasing it back up to full-time, which is where it was before the pandemic. There are no other staffing changes in Parks and Recreation other than an 11.11% increase for Treasure Island staff (such as life guards).
There are some changes to the Town’s projected revenues in 2022. The revenue resulting from the collection of penalties on the late filing of Homestead Declarations is down due to a policy change from the Selectboard this year, contributing to a roughly $8,000 shortfall so far. Those year-end numbers could still change.
Revenue from traffic and civil fines continue to drop following a trend that started with the pandemic. Police have been limiting traffic stops to mitigate the risk of exposure to Covid-19.
Revenue from the cell tower lease agreement on the Town Forest should kick in sometime in early 2022, resulting in new non-tax revenue. The partial-year’s benefit to the Town is projected to be $12,000 in 2022.
The budget will continue to shift around a little as numbers settle in. Some of those numbers, such as projected revenues, might wait on year-end actuals produced by the Town’s annual audit, while others, such as dues to our Solid Waste District (down 2.52%), are unlikely to change.