Rec boosts village budget to $4.8 million

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The Essex Jct. Board of Trustees is sending a $4.8 million general fund budget to voters this April, incorporating the Essex Jct. Parks and Recreation department for the first time in over 40 years.

Of this total, $3.3 million will be raised by taxes.

The general fund budget is up by $860,000, the result of the village taking ownership of EJRP. This 22 percent increase over the current fiscal year may shock voters at first glance. That’s why all budget talks have stressed a singular point: Residents are already paying for it.

“That recreation charge is coming off the school tax bill village residents get,” village president George Tyler said at a January trustees meeting. “I’m going to be like a broken record. I’m going to keep saying that.”

The general fund proposal is estimated to increase municipal taxes by $200 for the owner of a $280,000 home, village numbers show. However, the same homeowner will only pay $8 more than last year for municipal and recreation services, according to assistant manager Lauren Morrisseau.

Village residents also pay taxes into the town — whose budget included a 3.15 percent increase approved earlier this month — so they can expect an estimated $43 increase on their town bill as well.

Voters will consider the village’s general fund proposal during the annual meeting April 5 at Essex High School, beginning at 7 p.m.

The village budget would have decreased 1.05 percent without the recreation addition, Morrisseau said.

EJRP’s inclusion in the village budget comes on the heels of last December’s failed vote to create a union municipal district with the town’s recreation department. From there, the trustees met with EJRP’s current overseer, the prudential committee, to transfer ownership of the department.

The village’s breakdown shows $675,000 needs to be raised in taxes for EJRP, about a $40,000 increase over the current year.

The department will also carry over its penny on the tax rate for a total $109,500 in addition to $105,000 budgeted in debt service for Maple Street Pool.

The village’s breakdown, however, doesn’t show EJRP’s $1.6 million in expenses that are offset by revenue, resulting in a tax-neutral programs fund, numbers provided by director Brad Luck show.

That includes about $1.2 million from the department’s various childcare programs, $140,000 from youth programs and $147,000 from Maple Street Pool admission, membership and swim lessons.

Tyler said the trustees received a general description of the recreation budget during a work session December 20, but the itemized breakdown wasn’t ready at that time.

He said the full breakdown will be ready for the annual meeting, and he hopes to post it online as soon as possible.

Excluding EJRP, budgeted salaries are down about $52,000, including about $100,000 less in administrative expenses thanks to the town picking up the finance director’s salary this year.

The Brownell Library budget is up $22,000, about half of which is due to increases in health insurance and other benefits as well as a $5,000 increase in cleaning services.

Expenses are up $17,000 at the fire department, mostly for salaries, with $3,000 more slated for vehicle maintenance. The street department budget, which is picked up by the town, is up about $67,000.

A separate ballot item asks voters to consider transferring $96,000 from the general fund balance to its capital reserve fund to keep the fund balance equaling 10 percent of the general fund. The village will also use $60,000 of fund balance to offset tax impact, Tyler said.

Notable capital projects include the Main Street pedestrian bridge, as well as the Crescent Connector, Hillcrest sidewalk improvements and Greenwood Avenue drainage.

Consultant fees are up about $17,000 to cover the search for a new municipal manager, with current manager Pat Scheidel set to retire in June 2018.

The community development budget is set for $253,000, similar to last year’s total, despite budget actuals showing the village spent an average of $228,000 over the past three years.

Tyler said that’s partly because the budget accounts for certain legal fees the department doesn’t end up using. Last year, the department saved about $10,000 in this line item. Health insurance costs were also about $7,500 less than budgeted.

“Also, they’re very frugal with their money,” Tyler said.