B y Derek Liebig
Hamstrung by the lowest assessment in the county and burdened by worker’s compensation and health insurance costs, the Hampton Town Board is facing another difficult year as it begins putting together next year’s budget.
The board began work last week with nearly $6,000 in expenses to trim from its preliminary budget if it hopes to comply with the state mandated 2-percent tax cap.
And that figure does not include a request from the Hampton Volunteer Fire Department for additional funding, which if approved in full, would leave the town nearly $25,000 over the allowable tax cap levy, the amount of money raised from property taxes.
“Last year we were facing pressure from worker’s compensation and we still have that pressure this year,” Supervisor David O’Brien said. “It’s still going to be extremely tight.”
The town had to make a worker’s compensation payment of nearly $15,000 this year, which had a significant impact on the tax levy.
The payment was the result of a claim made nearly four years ago that affected the town’s experience rating, a measure used to determine the cost of a premium.
The town’s premium is expected to peak this year at $17,500 before beginning to decline next year.
“Worker’s compensation absolutely killed us,” Kim Perry, budget officer, said.
The town is also facing an increase in the cost of health insurance, but the exact amount is unknown.
Officials have budgeted an additional $4,000 for health insurance costs, but admit they don’t know what the increase will be.
“The Affordable Care Act is a wild card. We know its going to jack up some things, but we don’t know the (exact) impact,” O’Brien said.
The tentative budget included nearly $350,000 in expenses, $46,000 in revenues and $33,000 in unexpended balance that would result in a tax levy of $270,000, an increase of 5.71-percent, or $14,953 from last year.
The highest the tax levy can be without exceeding the 2-percent tax cap is $264,602.
After making some adjustments, which included a 2-percent, across-the-board raise for town employees (excluding the town board) and an additional $22,000 for the Hampton Fire Department, the tax levy increased to $289,355. That’s an increase of 13-percent to the overall tax levy and an increase of 15-percent for residents of fire district one, which includes nearly 80-percent of Hampton’s population.
Residents in fire district two, who receive fire protection from the Fair Haven (Vt.) Fire Department, would only see a 5-percent increase in the tax levy.
Those figures, however, are not set in stone. All budget requests are subject to change and officials have not decided what increase, if any, the fire department will receive.
The fire department currently receives $27,813, but has asked for a three-year contract worth $132,000.
O’Brien has said in the past the town would like to give the department more money, but has very little wiggle room to do so. Hampton’s total assessed value is the lowest in Washington County and a $2,000 increase in expenses is roughly the equivalent of a 1-percent increase in the tax levy.
“We have a lot of work left to do,” O’Brien said.
The town will hold a budget workshop at 7 p.m. on Monday, Sept. 30, and a second is scheduled, if necessary, at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 11.
A public hearing on the preliminary budget and the fire department contract will be held at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 16.