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BENNINGTON — The Bennington Select Board has finalized the city’s fiscal year 2024 budget that will appear on the ballot at the city meeting.
The total 2023 budget was $14,850,780 and the proposed 2024 budget is $16,084,940. This is an increase of 8.31%.
January 14 was the last meeting where the select committee heard budget proposals from city departments. At this meeting, council heard from the Bennington Fire Department, the Bennington Police Department and the Bennington Rescue Squad.
The decisions and approvals of the select committee are not final. The proposed budget must be approved by voters at the municipal assembly.
The fire department was represented by Police Chief Paul Doucette, Fire Chief James Wright and Deputy Chief Jeff Santarcangelo. Doucette said he worked closely with the fire department to develop what he called a “fiscally responsible” budget.
The fire department’s goal for 2024 is to find more volunteers. The department is a volunteer fire department, and only certain volunteers, such as the chief, receive an annual stipend.
The stipend has not been increased since 2018. The department requested a $500 increase for each volunteer who receives a stipend, which increases the stipend budget by $1,500.
Doucette asked the board to consider rising gas prices and wear and tear on personal vehicles when considering the requested increase in the allowance.
The increase in allowances was approved by the board almost immediately.
The fire department has requested funds to replace four sets of equipment, which will cost approximately $22,000. The equipment will go to firefighters entering structural fires.
They would also like to replace eight radios that are 20 years old. It will cost $24,890 as prices have increased post-COVID.
An additional $25,000 was also added to install heat pumps to save money on energy and become more energy efficient.
If approved, the fire fund budget will increase from $427,200 to $428,080.
Doucette and Police Lt. Camillo Grande presented the Bennington Police Department budget to the council. Doucette said 2022 was “difficult” because the department is understaffed and there has been an increase in violence.
The Police Service will focus on recruitment and retention over the coming year. It’s “important that we look seriously at recruiting,” Doucette said. To help in this endeavor, he demanded a 10% increase in department salaries.
The police department would also like to upgrade 12 radios for $32,000. This will provide half of the department with upgraded radios. Doucette said older radios “just aren’t good enough,” especially in areas of the city with poor cell phone service.
The department would also like to replace two police vehicles, but the equipment of the vehicles is increasing in price.
The vehicles used are hybrids, but require a lot of maintenance. There are other options, but Doucette said it’s been difficult to find vehicles available for purchase.
Ford also sent out a warning that hybrid vehicles shouldn’t be on the front line – although that’s what the department uses now. The warning was due to over-maintenance of the hybrids.
Doucette is confident he will be able to determine which vehicle is better, especially if Ford fixes the current issues with hybrid cars.
The police department’s budget for 2023 was approved at $4,268,100 and, if approved, will be increased to $4,639,960 for next year.
BENNINGTON RESCUE SQUAD
General Manager Art Groux and Board Members Brian Peat and Brian Murphy represented the Bennington Rescue Squad at the meeting. Groux said the team was “coming off of an extremely busy year”.
In 2022, the Rescue Squad responded to “a record number of 911 calls,” and 2023 is on track to surpass that number, Groux said.
The Rescue Squad is also having trouble recruiting new members. Although they’ve tried to seek out-of-state candidates, those who want to work at Bennington have nowhere to live, Groux said.
Since the team has responded to so many 911 calls, they don’t have time to answer transfer calls. It’s problematic because transfer calls, transferring patients from one place to another, that’s how it makes money. The Rescue Squad is not paid for 911 calls.
The increase in emergency calls is due to an “increased transfer of normal care to the 911 system,” due to limited home care staff, Groux said.
During the presentation of the team, some members of the Select Board expressed their displeasure with the team.
Board member Jim Carroll said he would like the team to do more due diligence and look for other sources of funding.
Board Chair Jeannie Jenkins says it’s a “private EMS service” and she expressed frustration with the team because the board doesn’t hear about the problems of the organization only during budget season.
If approved, the Bennington Rescue Squad’s budget will increase from $206,250 to $226,875.
At the end of the meeting, the board of directors reviewed the positions that had increased and approved or refused them in open session.
The Bennington Rescue Squad increase was approved on the condition that they make a quarterly presentation to the Select Board and speak to the board about appointing a Select Board Liaison.
The 3% increase for the Bennington Free Library was approved. Tom Haley, board member, mentioned that the library is looking for a lot of extra funding from out of town.
Budgets for Paran Lake, not including weeding, and the John G. McCullough Free Library were funded and approved.
The board decided that no action would be taken to fund the $16,500 weeding in Paran Lake.
The special council also increased the salary of the city manager from $118,560 to $124,490, the city clerk from $92,705 to $97,340, and the city treasurer from $15,920 to $17,240.
The board approved the budget with the inclusion of the increases approved at this budget meeting.
The 2024 city budget can be viewed at benningtonvt.organd it will be on the ballot at the municipal assembly.
It’s up to the voters: Bennington Select Board has approved the 2024 budget | Local News
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