At the September meeting of the Bennington City Council, we held public hearings on the new budget and the city's priorities for street projects:
2020-2021 Budget: The new budget year begins Oct. 1. Here are the biggest changes from the current year:
- The Bennington Police Department will add a new full-time police officer, bringing the force to four full-time positions (chief, sergeant, and two junior officers). This staffing level was the stated goal of the mayor and the Council when the new chief was hired one year ago. The expanded force will be able to provide close to round-the-clock coverage. Chief Hilscher has already been interviewing candidates.
- The Council approved a proposal by the mayor to lower the city's share of the property tax rate. With revenue remaining strong in the face of the pandemic, the mayor felt like a tax cut was in order. I ultimately agreed, but asked that we limit the tax cut for two reasons: One, our priority street projects (see below) are extensive and will cost more annually than what we've been spending in recent years. Two, a cut in the rate affects not just the coming year, but every year thereafter, unless a future mayor and Council make the difficult decision to re-raise the rate. We settled on a cut of 6 cents per $100 of valuation, reducing from the current rate of 77.8 cents to 71.8 cents.
Even with the lower rate, I think this budget keeps the city on a stable financial path. Though there are no certainties, both sales tax revenue (thanks to local and online shopping) and property tax revenue (thanks to more construction and increased valuations) seem likely to continue growing.
Also, with every home constructed outside of city limits, but within 1 mile, the city receives a 1% ASIP fee, based on the home's value. This money goes into a fund for streets only, somewhat rebalancing our dependence on in-town taxpayers for expensive street projects.
One and Six Year Street Plan: Regular street repairs and improvements have taken a backseat to the 156th Street project this year. Next year, other street projects will resume. These projects are on the one-year plan:
- Preservation treatment for asphalt roads throughout the city.
- Adding a shoulder to CW Haden Drive to make more space for parked trucks and to eliminate potholes forming on the side of the road.
- Adding turn lanes on Bennington Road for the new Kempten Creek housing development.
- Adding a speed table to N. Molley Street.
- Fixing the southern approach to the Papio Creek Bridge on 156th Street.
The mayor proposed and the Council approved moving Warehouse Street from the one-year to the six-year list. Other projects on the six-year list can be found on pages 33 and 34 of this document. On average, the estimated costs of these projects will be about $400,000 per year, a significant increase from recent years.
The streets plan is not written in stone and can be amended at any time. I would always welcome your input on the current list of priorities.
156th Street update: Finally, the city's engineer gave us an update on the 156th Street project. What had seemed like strong momentum was slowed down by soil issues near the library and then a week of rain. The next milestone is completing 156th Street from the Papio Creek bridge to Warehouse Street, which will re-open the city's southern access route. It looks like completion of that section is still about one week away.
Crews will then work their way north throughout the winter, likely pausing for a couple months when the ground is frozen. Obviously the project will continue well into 2021. The pace of this project and the city's lack of control are frustrating, without a doubt. The city engineer meets with the contractor and the state every week to speak for our residents and to monitor progress.
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