Warren Select Board members kicked off budget discussions at their meeting on Tuesday, December 8, and there’s one thing select board members want the public to be especially aware of before Town Meeting Day next March.
“Even in a normal year, people come into Town Meeting and go, ‘What? I didn’t know about this!’ But that’s reasonable. People are busy with their lives, and they are super busy this year,” said select board member Randy Graves, knowing that not every citizen arrives at Town Meeting fully informed about the town’s budget items.
This year, Warren will ask voters to vote on creating a capital fund for affordable housing, after the Mad River Valley Housing coalition implored Valley select board members to pursue affordable housing solutions at a tri-town meeting on November 19.
At the November 19 meeting, Warren Select Board chair Andrew Cunningham challenged Warren, Waitsfield and Fayston officials to start a housing trust and put it on their Town Meeting Day dockets. “Make people pay attention and vote it up or down. Take the first step,” he said.
For Warren, that first step happened on December 8. While select board members didn’t make an official motion to put a housing trust on the Town Meeting Day warning, that night, they agreed that it would be in the best interest of the town to do so and discussed what it would look like.
“The trust has to be set up. The management of that trust has to be worked out. The important thing is to make sure the work can continue,” said select board member Bob Ackland, who expects the ballot to say something like: “We’re going to contribute X number of dollars to the housing coalition to support their work.” The board still hasn’t decided how much that amount will be.
Town administrator Cindi Jones asked if other Valley towns would contribute the same amount, and if only Warren, Waitsfield and Fayston would contribute. Ackland said yes to both questions, for he does not believe other towns like Moretown will get involved in The Valley’s quest for affordable housing.
“If you want to go knock on Moretown’s door, I’ll drive you there, but I have knocked on it quite a bit and get a no thank you,” said Ackland.
OTHER BUDGET NEWS
In other budget news, Warren’s upcoming budget is expected to look very similar to last year’s budget. “We are almost in the exact same place as last year in terms of revenue collected and due,” said Cunningham. “We’ve collected 95% of the 2020 taxes. There’s 5% still out there.”
Earlier this year, the town outlined worst-case scenarios, graphing what it might look like if the town was only able to collect 70 or 80% of taxes. “But it’s looking like this year it’s no problem,” said Cunningham. “Next year? That’s the question.”
As for the last 5% of taxes that are delinquent, Warren treasurer Dayna Lisaius is uncertain if the town will receive them. “We are in better shape than last year in terms of delinquents. But who knows if we will be able to collect on those delinquents,” she said. Luckily, the percent of taxes yet to be paid is small.
The town doesn’t have any major road projects in the works and isn’t expecting any road-related financial drains. “There isn’t a big paving need at this point.” said Ackland, who explained that while some roads need to be repaired, the repairs are not urgent.
“The access road everyone feels can be put off a year,” he said. One potential future expensive project is German Flats paving and culvert replacement, which could cost $155,000. However, that project is not urgent. Select board members have yet to decide when they will start it.
“Theoretically, if we really want to be tight, we could do zero paving and not be at risk for anything,” said Ackland.
The board will discuss road project budgeting in more depth at its next meeting. “We’ll make a motion when we have all the numbers. We’ll put that motion together,” said Cunningham.