Questions & Answers on Ballot Items
Proposed Fiscal Year 2025 Budget
Q: How much is the proposed budget for fiscal year (FY) 2025 and how does it compare to the current fiscal year’s budget?
The proposed FY25 general fund budget is $16,106,421, an increase of $705,269 or 4.58 percent from FY24.
More details about the budget are available on the Town of Essex website, https://www.essexvt.org/1087/Budget. The proposed budget will be published in the Town Annual Report, which is expected to arrive in mailboxes by February 24.
Q: If this budget is approved by voters at Town Meeting, what impact will it have on the municipal tax rate and the amount an average property owner pays?
The proposed FY25 budget would increase the municipal tax rate by an estimated 4.24 percent, or $80 on the average home in Essex, which is assessed at $280,000. The resulting municipal tax rate would be $0.7053 (per $100 of assessed value). On a home assessed at $280,000 that equates to a municipal tax bill of $1,975.
Assessed value can be found by looking at your current tax bill. Assessed value is not the same as market value.
These projections are based on a 0.75 percent estimated growth in the grand list. Should grand list growth exceed this projection, the tax rate set in the summer would be adjusted downward accordingly.
The above chart does not include the 3-cent Capital tax nor the local tax agreement portion of tax for Farm and Open Land Contracts and Veteran’s exemptions, which has usually landed at about .002 cents.
Q: What are the main cost drivers in the FY25 budget?
Personnel costs, including benefits, have a significant impact on overall budget costs with $468,590 of the budgeted General Fund increase in this area. Inflation has driven up many costs, from contractual raises to staff, to construction supplies, gasoline, heating costs, road salt, vehicles and more.
Q: What is happening in the FY25 budget to limit expenses?
The separation of Essex Junction has been mitigated to some extent through shared service agreements put in place by the Selectboard and the Essex Junction Board of Trustees/City Council. The Town’s Police Department, including Dispatch services and the Community Justice Center, will continue to serve the City of Essex Junction. The costs are being allocated on a per capita basis. Assessing services will also be shared with Essex Junction, with costs allocated on a per parcel basis.
Police Department spending has often come in below budget, primarily due to staffing shortages. For the past few years, the Police Department has been funded at less than 100 percent to account for the under-spending. In FY25, the Police budget is proposed to be funded at 90 percent within Patrols, a better approximation of historical spending, while the Dispatch services are now budgeted at 100% in anticipation of full staffing in FY25.
Capital transfers out of the operating budget were level-funded from FY24 at $470,000.
Q: What staffing changes are proposed in the FY25 budget?
- Essex Free Library is proposed to have 15 additional hours per week to be allocated between two current part-time employees and substitute hours which will help with programming & coverage.
- The Library budget also includes funding for an Assistant Library Director, which would be a promotional opportunity for existing staff.
- The FY25 budget proposes the addition of a part-time Administrative Assistant to the Manager’s Office and a part-time Trails Coordinator within the Parks and Recreation Department.
- Allocations of personnel costs between the General Fund and the Enterprise Funds have been updated, especially for Parks & Recreation
- The position of Senior Center Coordinator is no longer needed with the Town not staffing the Essex Area Senior Center.
- The budget includes a reduction from three to two Senior Van Drivers for FY25
- The Finance Department no longer needs part-time staffing or consulting in FY25
- The Fire Department budget includes stipends for volunteers to be on call for evening and weekend shifts. FY25 also aims to increase the pay rates for the per diem firefighters by $1/hour to better match market rates. Additionally, the budget proposal seeks to incentivize volunteer coverage by including stipends of $40 per evening and weekend shift for four volunteers per shift
- The Utilities Clerk in Finance had 10% of salaries and benefits move into the General Fund from the Water/Sewer Fund
- In Public Works, two part-time staff have had their full salaries and benefits moved to the Water/Sewer fund
- The Police Department budget includes an elimination of a Seasonal Records Clerk and the Records Clerk/Dispatcher will become solely a Records Clerk
- Stormwater summer interns both fully paid by Town General Fund
- A 10% portion of the GIS Coordinator position in our Information Technology Department has been reallocated to the Assessing Department
Q: What Capital Budget items are being proposed in FY25?
The proposed FY25 capital plan calls for capital tax additions of $484,130, spending of $2,957,814, and an ending balance of $2,858,490. Capital projects proposed for FY25 include the following: buildings improvements; various road improvements; public works vehicles; fire vehicles and equipment; police equipment; senior vans; replacement of park assets; ADA compliance upgrades on sidewalks; stormwater projects; a storm pond conversion; and maintenance and replacement of street trees.
The operating budget includes transfers to the Capital budget in the amount of $470,000. More details about specific projects and the transfers are available online at https://www.essexvt.org/761/Budget.
Q: How much is fund balance and is there any available for reducing taxes?
The Town’s policy is to maintain an unassigned fund balance of 15 percent of the operating budget, which equates to approximately eight weeks of operating expenses. The Government Finance Officers Association recommends keeping at least two months of operating expenses in unassigned fund balance so that municipalities can operate during a natural disaster, an emergency, or some other type of unexpected event.
The Town has an unassigned fund balance of $2,310,173, or 15 percent of the current operating budget. The Selectboard has approved the use of $398,100 in fund balance in the FY25 budget, which consists of $325,000 assigned for FY25 tax rate reduction, $40,000 to be used for an Economic Development report, $25,000 towards a First Responder Study, $5,000 for Information Technology expenses and $3,100 for MainTrac tablets for the Parks and Recreation Department.
Capital Reserve Fund
Q: What does the Capital Budget include for the purpose of financing capital projects?
The capital budget is used to fund ongoing maintenance, repairs, and replacements on buildings, facilities, and heavy equipment. The budget is broken into several areas: Buildings, Highways, Vehicles & Equipment, Park Facilities, Paths/Walks/Trails, Stormwater, Information Management, Natural Resources Management, and Undesignated.
Q: How much money will the Town raise with the existing 3-cent capital tax rate?
The 3-cent capital tax rate is estimated to generate $484,130 in fiscal year (FY) 2025.
The Town General Fund Budget also includes a proposed $470,000 in operating transfers to the Capital Budget, matching what was included in the FY24 budget.
The Town has budgeted expenses of $2,957,814 for the FY25 Capital Plan. The estimated ending balance of the Capital Projects Fund is $2,858,490 for June 30, 2025.
Q: How would the Capital money be used?
Capital projects proposed for FY25 include the following: buildings improvements; various road improvements; public works vehicles; fire vehicles and equipment; police equipment; senior vans; replacement of park assets; ADA compliance upgrades on sidewalks; stormwater projects; a storm pond conversion; and maintenance and replacement of street trees.
More details about specific capital projects are available online at www.essexvt.org/761/Budget.
Q: Do I get to vote on the capital budget?
No, the capital budget and five-year plan are approved by the Selectboard. The Selectboard held a public hearing and approved the capital budget and five-year plan on January 29, 2024.
Town Plan 2024
Q: What is a town plan?
The Town Plan is a visionary, guiding document that sets goals for the Town for the next 8 years. Once adopted, a town plan is used to implement and update zoning and subdivision regulations, seek grants, develop a capital plan and budget, and set work plans for municipal departments, boards, commissions, and committees.
Q: Why is there a question on voting for the Town Plan on the ballot?
The Town of Essex requires that a town plan receive approval by Australian ballot from Town voters. State statute also requires one public hearing be held by the Planning Commission followed by two public hearings by the Selectboard. Those public hearings were in November and December in 2023 and January 2024.
Q: What happens if the voters approve the Town Plan?
The 2024 Town Plan will go into effect at the time of approval. The Plan provides direction for implementation of the Town’s vision and goals of the Selectboard, Town staff, and boards and committees. An adopted Town Plan will allow the Town to apply for most state grants, adopt impact fees, continue to operate its capital plan and budget, apply for state designations through the state designation program, amend zoning, subdivision and flood hazard regulations, and implement any new regulations.
Q: What happens if the voters don’t approve the Town Plan?
The 2016 Town Plan will expire in March 2024. A town plan is necessary to for the Town to apply for most state grants, adopt new and amend existing impact fees, continue to operate its capital plan and budget, apply for a state designation through the state designation program, and adopt any new tools or amend any existing tools enabled by an adopted town plan. This includes zoning, subdivision, and flood hazard regulations.
Q: How was the Town Plan written?
Work on the 2024 Town Plan began in the summer of 2022. At the start of the process, the Planning Commission decided to work with the other Town boards and committees on developing this Town Plan. As a result, various working together groups wrote the different sections of the Plan.
The Essex community took many opportunities to weigh in on the vision and direction of the Town Plan. In January 2023, the “Town Plan Working Group” – consisting of Planning Commissioner Joshua Knox and members from many of the other Town boards and committees – held listening sessions throughout Essex with residents and businesspeople. They came together to offer their thoughts on what the Town of Essex can be, and ways in which to continue building a community that is connected, diverse, inclusive, sustainable, and a joy to live in. This vison served as the direction for the 2024 Town Plan, including the action items that direct how the vision is implemented.
Q: Where can I read the Town Plan?
The Town Plan can be viewed on the Town Plan page of the Town website: https://www.essexvt.org/1140/Town-Plan-2024. Print copies of the Town Plan are available to view at the Essex Free Library and the Town Clerk’s Office. The Town Plan webpage contains more background information about the Plan.
Voter-backed petitions: Tax stabilization agreements and staff salaries and benefits
Q: How did questions get on the ballot to have the annual report include tax stabilization agreements and staff salaries and benefits?
The questions are the result of voter-backed petitions that were submitted ahead of Town Meeting.
Q: What exactly do the questions ask?
Article III on the Town Meeting ballot asks, “Shall the voters require the Town Annual Report to list the location of commercial properties that received a municipal tax stabilization benefit within the report fiscal year, the amount of that benefit and property owners? (Advisory).”
Article IV asks, “Shall the voters require the Town Annual Report to list the names, position titles, salaries and benefits of all town employees within the annual report fiscal year? (Advisory).”
Q: What are commercial tax stabilization benefits?
The Town of Essex has a Tax Stabilization Policy that allows it to enter agreements where commercial properties have their municipal tax payments reduced for a period of time in exchange for supporting quality and sustainable economic development in the community.
The full Tax Stabilization Policy is available online at https://essexvt.org/515/POLICIES-ORDINANCES.
Q: Why does the ballot language indicate that the questions are “Advisory”? What does that mean?
The questions are non-binding and do not require action to be taken. In other words, if voters approve the questions, there is still no requirement to include the information in the annual report. Examples of binding questions include the budget, or changes to ordinances or the Town Charter.
If the questions are approved, however, the Town does anticipate including the information in future annual reports.
Q: Can I get information about tax stabilization agreements and staff salaries and benefits now, without waiting for them to appear in the annual report?
Yes, all of that information is public. Anyone looking for that information can submit a public records request to Assistant to the Manager/Public Information Officer Tammy Getchell at email@example.com.
Q: Will there be opportunities to learn about or discuss the ballot items before I vote?
Yes. The Selectboard is holding a Town Meeting preview on Monday, Feb. 12 at 6:30 p.m. at the Town Offices, 81 Main St., Essex Junction. There will also be an Informational Hearing about Town Meeting ballot items on Monday, March 4 at 7:30 p.m. at Essex Middle School, 60 Founders Rd., Essex.
Additionally, staff is available to answer questions about ballot items. Visit the Town Offices between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday (appointments recommended) or contact:
|To ask questions about the FY2025 Budget
|Dan Roy, Finance Director
|To ask questions about Town Plan 2024
|Katherine Sonnick, Community Development Director
Q: When and where do residents vote on the budget?
Voting will occur by Australian ballot at the polls, which will be open on Tuesday, March 5 from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. at Essex Middle School, 60 Founders Road, Essex.
Voters can also request an early ballot. Early voting will start February 14. The last day to request an early ballot is 4:30 p.m. Monday, March 4.
Voters may visit the Town Offices at 81 Main St., Essex Junction to vote in the office, pick up a ballot to take home, or to request that a ballot be mailed.
Ballots can also be requested to be mailed by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org; calling 802-879-0413, option 6; or requesting online at https://mvp.vermont.gov/. Please allow sufficient time for mailing and returning the ballot.
In order to be counted, ballots must be received before the polls close on Town Meeting Day on March 5 (7 p.m.). Voters returning ballots on Town Meeting Day must deliver their ballot directly to the polling place at Essex Middle School.
A secure drop box will be available at the Town Offices for returning ballots after hours or on weekends up until 6:00 a.m. the morning of March 5.