The proposed 2021 general fund budget in Montpelier is for $14,972,291. That comes out to 3.6% more than this year’s budget. City manager Bill Fraser told the City Council Wednesday night that the spending plan would call for a 4.5% property tax increase, or $116 more for an average homeowner.
Montpelier resident Laura Rose is worried about the city’s ability to pay off debt and got into a brief exchange with Fraser. “In five years, we’re going to need in our budget an additional $5.3 million to service debt that we already have,” Rose said. “The payments that are going out will be offset by revenues coming in to cover them,” Fraser replied. Rose then asked, “$5 million in revenues?”, to which Fraser nodded.
Fraser’s budget summary shows that rising costs for employee benefits account for more than three-fourths of the budget increase. He projected them to rise by 16% due to what he described in writing as “very unfavorable health insurance and worker’s compensation rates”.
Several people spoke at the meeting about the council’s willingness to devote $45,000 in funding to the city’s Homelessness Task Force. “(Your decision is) opening up doors to talk to Barre City and say, ‘hey, Montpelier is doing this and thinking about doing this, and why don’t you guys think about this as well’?”, task force member Ericka Reil said.
Keron Asencio, who works at the wintertime warming shelter at Bethany Church, told the council the shelter has consistently surpassed its 20-bed capacity by about 15 people since it opened for the season in November. “So my idea, if you guys consider it — which, honestly, I really shouldn’t have to bring this up, because it’s ridiculous at this point — but I think it should be emergency vouchers, hotel vouchers, in this local area,” he said.
In his own comments to the council, former homelessness task force member Steve Whitaker criticized his former group’s vision of how to spend whatever amount of city funding is ultimately allocated. “I think you really need to commit to investing in a plan and demand a plan, and a plan would explore brick-and-mortar housing for parents with children,” he said.
The Montpelier City Council has scheduled one more public budget hearing on Thursday, January 23. The budget must win final approval that night in order to appear on the Town Meeting Day ballot in March.