Naples Town Manager John Hawley has proposed a spending plan that would include funds to create a public works department and nearly $440,000 for new equipment.

Hawley presented the Selectboard with two options for the 2021-22 budget on March 16, one of which includes about $400,000 in additional funding to establish a department to maintain the town’s infrastructure.

If approved, the proposal would mean a 19.1% increase in the municipal budget, from $4.13 million to $4.92 million. Without a new public works department, the budget would see an increase of 9.8% over the 2020-21 spending plan to just over $4.5 million.

Hawley has projected a property tax rate of $13.53 per $1,000 of assessed property value with the public works department and $13.59 without it; the current tax rate is $13.35. He expects the actual rate will be much lower with the increased revenues from the new property valuations.

The owner of a $250,000 home in Naples paid $3,337.50 in property taxes this fiscal year. In the version with public works, that homeowner could expect to pay $3,382 in property taxes, or $45 more in the 2021-22 fiscal year. In the version without a public works department, the homeowner would pay $60 more, or $3,397 total in property taxes.

Both proposals will go before voters at the annual Town Meeting on April 29. Prior to voting on the public works proposal, voters will be asked to approve $3.68 million in municipal spending for all town accounts except those having to do with public works, such as administration, fire/rescue and debt service.

Residents will then vote on an article to create the public works department, which will add $1,235,388 to the budget for the town maintenance, capital improvements and public works department budgets. If that fails, voters will be asked to approve two articles for $848,924 in spending to maintain the budget structure as is, with town maintenance and roads and highways accounts (these two articles are skipped if the former article passes).

The difference between the two proposals is $386,464 in the total municipal budget.

The public works budget would go toward salaries and benefits for the equivalent of five full-time employees, equipment rentals and vehicle maintenance and fuel. The department would absorb some of the items previously included in the town maintenance budget. One part-timer would remain on the town maintenance department’s payroll.

Most public works projects are now completed by private contractors, Hawley said this week, and Naples funds routine maintenance such as snow plowing, road repairs and paving through the maintenance and roads and highways budgets. There is also funding for capital improvements projects in a separate account.

The town maintenance department is staffed by two full-time employees and one part-timer that primarily provide janitorial services and other small-scale, routine maintenance around town.

Hawley said creating a full-fledged public works department would save the town money and improve services. Contracting work comes at a high cost and limits the efficiency with which projects can be completed or to respond to emergency events, such as a fallen tree after a wind storm, he said.

“When you hire all the contractors to do all the work, you only really get between four and five months of work out of all those contracts,” Hawley said. “Whereas if I had my own public works department, I now have 12 months’ worth of manpower and equipment to do all the work.”

Additional capital improvement funding would go toward purchasing three dump trunks with plow equipment, an additional pickup truck and a wood chipper.

Hawley’s initial estimate of anticipated municipal revenues is a 2% increase over this year’s at $12.88 million, but he expects that number to go up once he receives the town’s updated property valuation.

He is also proposing transferring $125,000 from the undesignated fund balance to capital reserves and an additional $438,500 toward capital improvements if the PWD budget passes, which will help offset the amount to be raised from taxes for the new department.

In other business, Naples’ contribution to the Lake Region School District would see a 2.3% increase from the current budget, for a total of $8.1 million. The county budget of $551,242 is a nearly 3% decrease from 2020-21.

The in-person town meeting on April 29 will start at 6 p.m. at Lake Region High School at 1877 Roosevelt Trail. Masks are required and there is a 50-person room capacity. Residents will also be able to participate via Zoom and the meeting will be broadcast live on Lake Region Television, per the town’s website.

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