ESSEX JUNCTION — After two public hearings, the Essex Junction City Council approved an independent municipal budget March 8 for the first time ever. The proposed budget has a .4% increase and will be on the April 11 ballot.
The proposed FY24 General Fund budget is $11,421,171, which will impose a 0.4% tax rate increase on the residents of Essex Junction, or $10.86 on the average home.
“This budget allows for us to be the fully independent City of Essex Junction,” City Council President Andrew Brown said at the March 8 meeting.
An earlier version of the budget included a 1.4% increase over the previous budget. The council was able to decrease that amount by 1% by using funds from the local option tax to pay for 50% of the code enforcement officer’s salary and benefits.
There was also a mistake in the calculation of the adult services director’s position, where the benefits were budgeted for a full year instead of half a year.
City staff moved the paving increase from the streets budget to the LOT fund, leading to a general fund decrease of $20,000, and moved the stormwater grant match to the LOT fund, which is a general fund decrease of $28,000.
A .4% increase is still larger than the 0% increase the City initially believed the separation would have, but that is because of the new staff necessary for an independent municipality and the inflation that cannot be controlled.
“Yes, we did anticipate having a decrease in taxes,” Vice President Raj Chawla said. “We would have, without some of these positions, and without the impact from inflation, so this is an ask.”
Hiring an ordinance enforcement officer will no longer allow ordinance or housing issues to go unaddressed, Chawla said.
“These are things we hoped to do in the future and I think we’re learning that the need is greater than we expected,” Chawla said. “We have an enormous amount of pent-up need.”
Notable new changes to the budget include:
Increase the election budget to include mailing ballots and to reflect actual expenses from last two years — general fund increase of $17,000
Add committee stipends for three additional city committees to be determined through the strategic planning process — general fund increase of $10,500
A postage line for the Clerk’s Office — general fund increase of $500
City Council stipend increase from $1,500 to $2,500 — general fund increase of $5,382
As one of the two councilors stepping down, Councillor George Tyler had a request for the City Council to take into future consideration.
“I really urge the board, once you really understand what the LOT is going to generate…get in the habit of putting a great big semi-painful chunk of that away,” Tyler said.
Since the separation, both the City and the Town now have less financial capacity to respond to a potential catastrophe, specifically those related to climate change.
“One more serious significant rain event like we’ve had in the past and you could find yourself in a serious hole,” Tyler said. “No pun intended, put some money away for a rainy day, because you’re going to need it.”
Watch the full meeting here.
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