LUDLOW, Vt. – During two meetings on Jan. 3 and Jan. 10, the Ludlow Selectboard worked on finalizing their budget, considered and largely rejected an extensive proposal from a Ludlow recreation committee, and has not yet determined the final date and format for their town meeting.
With a budget increase of 3.6% over last year in the general fund, the Ludlow Selectboard has been working on finetuning several options, including whether to reduce their list of appropriations to local non-profits by 10%, an option they ultimately rejected.
The budget increase has largely been driven by a 5% wage adjustment for town staff, implemented in an effort to make Ludlow more competitive with other towns, and an unforeseen $39,000 expense for the town’s portion of the upcoming repair project for Vail Bridge. The savings for reducing appropriation by 10% would have added $18,500 in savings but the board instead decided to eliminate a $41,000 purchase of a stretcher that does not need to be bought this year, adding back $18,500 for the appropriations and putting $20,000 in for the dredging and adding of beach sand to West Hill pond.
This West Hill pond project was the only project approved by the board out of the $450,000 plan proposed by the recreation committee on Jan. 3, a plan that would allocate for $150,000 a year over three years.
Recreation committee chair Marissa Selleck presented a plan to the board that targeted improvements in three areas in town: the land behind the elementary school with mountain biking trails and rope course; Dorsey Park improvements to tennis courts, skate park, and playground; West Hill area for pond dredging and beach sand, two new basketball courts, a new pickleball court, and repaving.
Board Chair Bruce Schmidt expressed frustration during that initial Jan. 3 meeting that the proposal, which neared half a million dollars, included some items that they had not heard of before, items such as the pond dredging and the pickleball court at West Hill. He also questioned the need to rush ahead on the project, suggesting instead that they take a broader view on the project’s development. For example, questioning whether Ludlow needs to have four playground areas.
Board member Justin Hyjek spoke in support of developing West Hill but that other things should be shelved until the board had a better understanding overall.
The board asked the recreation committee to return on Jan. 10 with something tighter that focused only on West Hill. The committee’s proposal during the Jan. 10 meeting recommended a three-step plan for West Hill over the course of four years. Step one included just the pond dredging and beach sand for $25,000, including $5,000 for a buffer in case of equipment issues. Steps two and three included paving a back court area for $25,000 and resurfacing two basketball courts for $27,000, which the committee hoped to address with several grant opportunities.
Again, Schmidt expressed frustration that the board had not been given this revised proposal in advance of the meeting, and instead were handed the proposal that night.
After further discussion, the board decided to include $20,000 for the dredging project in the budget itself.
According to Ludlow Municipal Manager Scott Murphy, the final changes result in an increase of 3.6% in the general fund and an overall increase of 3.3% in the amount to be raised after including the proposed Articles and voted exemptions.
In discussing the format for the upcoming town meeting, board members were given the option of moving to a hybrid meeting, with all articles being voted on by Australian ballot – an authority that the Vermont state legislators approved last week due to concerns over Covid-19 health risks. After discussion, the board agreed they would prefer to have the meeting in person and were weighing whether they should delay the town meeting until April or May, when Covid numbers may lessen. They did not come to an agreement and will make their final decision when they meet during a special meeting on Friday, Jan. 14 at 8 a.m.
The next regular Ludlow Selectboard meeting is scheduled for Monday, Feb. 7 at 6 p.m. in Heald Auditorium at the Ludlow Town Office.