by Doug McClure
WOLCOTT – At the December 16 meeting, the Wolcott Select Board reviewed several budgets. As with every department budget this year, due to COVID and other factors, no department budget was being voted on but simply acknowledged.
A significant question not yet answered and related is just what Town Meeting 2021 will look like, without a clear signal from the legislature expected until the session starts in January. Two proposals on the table appeared to be eliminating the in-person aspect and replacing it with Australian ballot, which Vice Chair Linda Martin said she was “leaning toward,” and a second being moving the date of the meeting itself, which no one thought was a good idea. The change to Australian ballot will add some expense and much of that might not be reimbursed through COVID relief funds, with the only major item identified being a new tabulator for $1800. Postage will increase but likely can’t be reimbursed. Beyond the additional expense, the change of structure will enforce some significant time constraints, at the most basic due to the need to get ballots printed. Board member Kurt Billings said,
“Time is of the essence.” Martin added, “It might even change the date of when we have to have the warning together.”
Town Clerk Belinda Clegg presented the town clerk’s proposed budget, which worked out to $4,317 less than last year’s. She put in that budget proposal that whatever insurance increase from Blue Cross/Blue Shield happened would be self-paid. No raises were planned for either her or Assistant Town Clerk Allison Bigelow. Clegg stressed that a lot of this budget was less than certain because it was impossible to predict where the COVID pandemic would be when the budget started in July. She expected a postage increase and more paper costs.
Board members quizzed her on the recording fees figure which she set at $17,000 — only a slight increase from this year’s budget. Based on the fact the current year is at $17,000, the fees this year could end up at closer to $24,000 when just $15,000 was budgeted. Clegg replied that “Right now the market is hot and I’ve got a lot of recording fees.” She said she did not foresee that likely being the case by July. She said she further expected that with the ability to do much of the activity online, which should be ready by the end of December, the amount of in-person visits necessary will be a lot less, reducing expenses.
Martin said that this town clerk budget reflected several technology-related expenses that really did not belong just in one budget. Since multiple departments use services such as e-mail and the website, Martin said that those broad expenses would best be placed in the global line items list and not in the town clerk’s budget.
The highway department budget came next. Road Foreman Dillan Cafferkey said the total budget worked out to $500 less than this year. A major reduction in temporary labor of $9,000 reflected the much-reduced role of Roads Commissioner Lucien Gravel. His main work with Martin has been securing federal reimbursement for repairs to the North Wolcott Road and others devastated by the 2019 Halloween Storm. That project should be mostly wrapped up by the time the new budget kicks in, he said. Based on actual utilization the road crew was projected to spend slightly less on lights, signs, guardrails, and “miscellaneous” expenses.
The trucks need new winter tires, which added $2,500 to last year’s figure. Yet another increase and the largest dollar amount increase from the previous year was for equipment repairs, where the $25,000 allotted was budgeted at $30,000. Cafferkey said, “We’ve gone over that [$25,000 budgeted amount] the past two years because of Truck 13.” He also clarified some wording in the budget, renaming the ambiguous “outside equipment” line item to “roadside mowing,” since that was its entire use.
Wolcott Volunteer Fire Department Chief Jim Holton and treasurer Brett Eagan presented that department’s budget of $73,050. Eagan explained the department began using Quickbooks in the past three years and that it “has really changed how we’re doing things” by way of explaining a $4,150 increase. Now, he said the department could better figure out the actual costs of each item than before. Previous budgets were just three lines; this budget was detailed.
Hazmat equipment was down a couple hundred from previous years, the stipend was “pretty much stagnant” and two $1,000 items in the budget would normally get offset or “canceled out” by grants, though one of those, foam, “this year didn’t come through,” Eagan said. The other is two planned-for new hydrants. The budget reflected ongoing two loans, one for Self-contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA) and the other for a tanker, both of which would be “about halfway through” at that point.
The board reviewed the transfer station budget and that department continues to have issues with shortfalls, according to Klein. Martin said she was “reluctant” to discuss those issues in much detail in a public meeting beyond saying that some residents were making the workers’ jobs extremely difficult with their attitudes. “It almost needs the state police up there sometimes. People have gotten so used to doing what they want, paying what they want… there needs to be some control.”
One number that the board was not able to unravel is just what impact Casella’s $3 per ton rate increase for refuse and 50-cent increase for recycling would have, and how to offset that. Trying to get that figure granular enough to assess what sort of per-bag increase would be needed to offset it proved vexing. Some of the necessary components in that equation were not available and some not tracked directly. Martin recognized that the transfer station had competition and would call up the solid waste district to see how their fees were being adjusted to reflect Casella’s pricing.