City and School Budgets Reviewed: Steering Committee Focuses on Collaboration

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Thursday January 30, 2014

Members of the South Burlington School Board and City Council meet quarterly to discuss items that concurrently affect the community. Topics have included interim zoning, safety, and at the January 22 meeting at Tuttle Middle School, their respective budgets. 

Deputy City Manager Tom Hubbard kicked things off by presenting the highlights of the City’s FY 15 budget. Hubbard explained that the budget was designed to achieve the following: keep the tax increase minimal, maintain the FY 14 funding level for city programs and services, meet their contractual obligations, support funding for one additional police officer (which will bring staffing back to 2011 levels), and offer continued support to the Capital Improvement Plan. 

In order to keep the increase minimal, numerous reductions in the budget were made. These included paving, the contribution to the Capital Reserve Fund, payment to the sick bank and contingency fund, Winooski Valley Parks District Assessment, and City Hall improvements. The City will also be postponing filling a vacancy for an economic development position that would have allowed for City Center consulting services and planning and zoning part time staff and consultant services. What all of this means to the taxpayer is a ½ cent increase on the city tax rate from $0.4235 to $0.4285. For a condo assessed at $224,743 this is an increase of $11.24 annually and for a primary residence assessed at $326,465, this means a $16.32 annual increase. 

Marginal increases have also been proposed for water, stormwater, and sewer utilities. The total estimated utility increase when the three are combined is $13.27. For a condo, the combined tax and utility would mean a $24.51 annual increase and for a single family detached home, a $29.59 annual increase. 
Next, Superintendent David Young and Business Manager John Stewart presented their proposed FY 15 budget. The district’s total proposed budget amounts to $44,297,297. Young and Stewart provided information regarding operations and programs at the district’s schools, their standards and expectations, and how they go about accomplishing the district’s ends policy. A few of the key additions recommended in the school budget include $45,000 to evaluate and implement the Common Core standards, $95,000 for new computers for K-6 to replace machines that are several years beyond their warranty, the lease of 3 new buses, additions to the one-to-one laptop initiative for grade 12, continuation of the mentoring program for 45 students in the elementary and middle schools, $50,000 to fund a portion of the nutritional services deficit, and $100,000 more than the minimum annual required contribution to the staff retirement budget. Some of the major reductions include a decrease in .9 teacher Full Time Equivalents (FTE’s) and administrative support at Chamberlin School ($77,600), special education costs for outside contracted services ($75,061), and the amount allotted in the contingency was reduced ($80,000). 

In summary, the school budget represents an 8.27 percent increase in the residential tax rate. About two thirds of the increase is due to state factors and one third is attributed to changes in district spending. Prior to factoring in income sensitivity, the residential property tax impact would equate to a $409 increase on a $326,000 home and a $282 increase on a $225,000 condo. The total increase in district spending is 3.05 percent. 

David Young emphasized the many ways in which the school district and city share services which in turn benefits both of their budgets. He cited the community library, transportation and the sharing of garage space as well as mechanics, IT and tech support, budget process and books, elections which are held at the schools, often when school is in session, the master electrician they share with Public Works, legislative breakfasts, and most recently, the series of regular meetings that have been taking place between City Manager Kevin Dorn, Superintendent David Young, City Council Chair Pam Mackenzie, and School Board Chair Elizabeth Fitzgerald regarding opportunities for city/school collaboration.   

Pat Nowak mentioned the safety forums that have been taking place as an ongoing example of positive collaboration. Nowak also referenced the City Center Task Force’s recent recommendation that suggested a central administrative building to house both city and school offices jointly to better facilitate communication and teamwork. 

The city and school officials will meet again at a pre-town meeting March 3 to present their budgets and hold candidate forums. The steering committee’s next meeting will be April 4 and will be hosted by the city.       

SOURCE: Corey BurdickCorrespondent