NEWPORT CITY – Monday evening, the city council looked at a preliminary municipal budget for 2013-2014 fiscal year. The council will vote on the finalized budget at the next meeting.
According to information provided by City Manager John Ward Jr., the administrative budget increased by 1.8% to $463,086.68; the police department budget increased 4.6% to $927,480.80, which includes $61,000 for overtime; the fire department budget has a 14.4% increase to $145,234.37; the public works budget is up 3.9% to $880,524.10; and the recreation budget is up 1.8% to $351,095.08.
The city also shows a combined utility expense of somewhere in the neighborhood of over $400,000, of which $138,000 is for the water plant and $120,200 for sewer.
Despite the increases, however, the property tax rate will remain unchanged because the city is using about 25% of it's reserved funds.
City Manager John Ward Jr. said he met with the department heads who made their requests.
“I look at it, agree with it mostly, then I cut what I think needs to be cut,” said Ward. “They usually get what they ask for, but I cut here and there.”
For example, Ward cut $60,000 out of the capital budget for the recreation department.
Ward thinks it is a good budget and he didn’t cut any services. Council members added an additional $400 to the budget for The Newport Area Band. Bill Prue, representing the band, told the council that band members need folders for the sheet music, some of percussion instruments are starting to fall apart and at some point the band needs a new public address system.
The band concerts, which take place in Gardner Park during the summer months, attract many people, Mayor Paul Monette said.
The city didn’t grant Newport City Renaissance Corporation’s (NCRC) request to increase its appropriation from $25,000 to $50,000. Monette said many people told him the requested increase was a lot.
Trish Sears said the organization helped with grants, brought in a foreign trade zone status, philanthropy that helped buy such things as fireworks, a Rural/Urban Design Assistance Team and community block grants.
NCRC has one paid staff person, but organization officials would like to bring in some help, especially when extensive development comes to the Newport area over the next few years.
NCRC can also take some credit for the community garden and the Complete Streets work, Newport Zoning Administrator Paul Dreher said. That remark didn’t set well with at least one person who said the community garden is the outcome of numerous volunteers.
Newport City needs business development, said Monette. If the grand list doesn’t start to grow, it won’t be long until the city makes cuts or starts to increase taxes.
The NCRC increase, if approved by the council, would have meant a penny increase on the tax rate.
The council briefly discussed medical marijuana dispensaries. Council President John Wilson said other communities in the state have already said they don’t want such outlets.
Ward said he would find out if the council or planning commission should take up an issue about not permitting a dispensary in the city.
Newport City resident Pam Ladds wondered why the council doesn’t want medical marijuana dispensaries.
“It’s illegal per the federal government,” said Monette. “The only reason it’s not enforced is because they don’t have the manpower.”
“The feds are not supporting gay marriage, but Vermont is,” fired back Ladds. “Why on earth wouldn’t we support medical marijuana? It’s an incredibly affective treatment.”
The concern, said Ward, is the city already has a drug problem and some people view marijuana as a gateway drug.
“We want Newport to be a nice place to live,” said Ward. “I think legalizing marijuana is not going make it better place to live just like nude dancing doesn’t make Newport a good place to live."
Years ago, the city council prohibited nude dancing.