Rockingham Selectboard discusses library, highway dept. budgets

BELLOWS FALLS, Vt. – On Tuesday, Dec. 14, the Rockingham Selectboard discussed budgets with the Highway Department and the Rockingham Free Public Library.

Library director Ian Graham started Nov. 1. He presented a budget for the library of $444,705, which was a 3.83% increase from last fiscal year with a proposed tax appropriation of $392,400. He explained three items that constituted the library budget: services, collections, and the building.

Graham highlighted that services are the highest expense because that includes employee compensation. Currently, there are two full-time employees, plus Graham and five part-time staff, two of which only work on Saturdays. He explained that his salary was an increase to the past directors, simply due to his benefits, i.e. family status. He said electricity costs for the library were roughly $26,000 per year and would look into grant funded LED lighting conversion.

Rick Cowan welcomed Graham and asked if staffing should be decreased under Covid conditions. Graham explained that one staff member had retired and that position was eliminated. He said the trick was staffing the building because servicing the youth and main floor was “like running two storefronts.” He said they are open six days per week and hoped to return to pre-pandemic activity soon.

Chair Peter Golec asked about the surplus from last year and if there were expected savings during the pandemic. Bonnie North wondered why there were expectations that Covid would make the library spend less.

Graham explained that he did not project a surplus and explained last year’s was used for the director’s retirement and vacation payout. He said they have been open full-time since July 1.

For the Highway Department budget, Municipal Manager Scott Pickup explained it “was pretty much flat.”

The changes from year to year were due to proposed paving, which they projected $887,000 next year due to asphalt costs. Pickup explained their concerns, which involved compensation, cost of materials, and an equipment schedule.

Pickup said they had lost one employee to the state who is now offering incentives and bonuses to CDL drivers. He proposed an hourly compensation incentive for employees with their CDL. Pickup reminded the board that a short staff meant plowing delays if there were not enough drivers during big storms.

Golec asked about the employee who was retiring in January. Andy Howarth said they had hired someone in November to prepare for the retirement and had been training the new person.

North asked if the hourly wage incentive was in the budget. Pickup explained it would be added and presented at the next meeting Dec. 28.

Howarth said the cost of materials had increased, with culverts doubling in price. He mentioned immediate needs on Green Mountain Turnpike, the stone culvert on Oak Street, and three on Leach Road and suggested a schedule for replacement.

Pickup proposed a large-scale change in the town’s equipment purchasing program. He explained they needed to replace two plow trucks, proposing one for replacement at $150,000. He suggested the other truck be added as an article for Town Meeting.

He said they would order both now because the lead time was over a year for equipment. Howarth explained that a loader would take almost two years and parts were the same way.

Susan Hammond suggested a transfer of $200,000 from the fund balance.

Howarth explained that the budget for asphalt was estimated, but last year they paid $72 per ton. He updated the board that paving on Brockway Mills Road and Saxtons River were finished with Pleasant Valley Road next.

Golec asked why the paving had been focused on Saxtons River for two years and mentioned Center Street was still not done. Howarth mentioned that Center, Front, B streets, and Williams Terrace had been scheduled in 2022. He reiterated that it was “nice to follow a plan.” Pickup agreed and said the mobilization and demobilization is what’s costly, so it made sense to wait until they were in Bellows Falls.

Howarth also mentioned equipment concerns; the grader was 21 years old with a disintegrated clutch and one of the town trucks cost more to fix than it was worth. He suggested, like the paving schedule, a trade-in schedule for equipment should be instituted to eliminate repairs on old equipment.

The Selectboard’s next meeting is Tuesday, Dec. 28 at 6 p.m. in the Lower Theater of the Bellows Falls Opera House.

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