By Michelle Fields
Special To The Standard
Despite the turmoil of last year, due to Tropical Storm Irene, Woodstock voters will be presented with a proposed budget on Saturday of $4,211,535, which represents a one- cent increase on the tax rate. That translates to an additional $10 annually for every $100,000 in home value.
Irene’s impact of an estimated $5,290,582 in repairs needed to roads, bridges, sewers etc. in the town will be absorbed through FEMA, state, and town funds but they are not specifically in this budget due to the need to determine final costs and grants. FEMA typically reimburses 75 percent of costs with the state kicking in another 15 percent and the remaining 10 percent contributed by the town. However, the final federal money will not come in until the work is completed in the fall of 2013, according to Town Manager Phil Swanson.
“We’re working on temporary short-term borrowing,” said Swanson of the town’s expenditures for flood damage so far. When all final actual costs are known, Swanson said the select board will call a special town meeting to vote on the option of issuing a long-term bond to spread the expenses over a number of years.
Even though Irene is not directly impacting most of the proposed budget, it dominates Woodstock’s Annual Report with color photos of the extensive damage to the town, updates on what has been done and what needs to be done and how, as well as a dedication to the people of Woodstock who came together to help each other rebuild. “It’s going to be a collector’s item,” states Swanson about the report.
Despite the rising cost of living, this year’s budget has benefited from some recent savings on health insurance. “We switched from Cigna to MVP and stayed with the Vermont League of Cities and Towns Health Trust and got some big savings,” explains Swanson. “We’re down more than wages are up.”
This year’s budget also no longer includes a payment towards the construction of the Welcome Center Building.
“We took out a five-year loan to pay for the building. The loan is paid off,” said Swanson. There are some capital expenditures in this year’s budget including a new front-end loader, backhoe, and ambulance. However, these have already been budgeted for in capital reserves so they do not have an increased impact on the budget. Swanson noted that some of these purchases were put off a bit longer than usual due to the state of the economy. The budget also includes money to replace some of the turnout gear for the fire department, but they will seek a $5000 matching grant to defray some of these expenses.
Since the fiscal year runs from July 1 – June 30, Tropical Storm Irene numbers are not in any of the actual budget numbers from 2011 — they will be listed next year instead. However, despite not knowing the final construction and grant numbers, the Select Board has begun to prepare for a future storm. Article XV proposes that the town set aside $50,000 towards flood mitigation. Swanson explains that this would be used to “supersize” culverts so they could accept a higher volume of water before flooding occurs. If the voters approve this, Swanson says it will probably become a regular budget item in the future. “We’ve taken the approach that with our without FEMA we’re going to do things right so that when the next disaster comes we won’t have quite so much damage.”
Voters will also have the chance to consider a special article seeking the purchase of a bond up to $220,000 to complete repairs to the Woodstock Recreation Center and the Little Theater as a result of the storm. While grant funds will help, it is likely that they will not cover all of the costs thus this article is being put before the voters. “They lost all of their mechanical and electrical,” Swanson explains.
While the flood may not be fully accounted for in the budget yet, it is certainly on the minds of many as they look back at 2011 and plan for the future. Select Board Chair Grettie Howe sums this up at the conclusion of her report, “There is still a lot to do, and I have confidence in the people of Woodstock; we will get it done.”
Town Meeting will begin at 10 a.m. Saturday, March 3 at Woodstock Town Hall. Australian balloting will take place on Tuesday, March 6 from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the same location.