Ambler Farm was busier than ever this past year and to accommodate that, and further expected growth, it has submitted a 2011 budget proposal that features a 7.5 percent increase.
Friends of Ambler Farm President Ann Bell presented the proposal to the Board of Selectmen last Tuesday night, delineating expected increases and decreases, as well as discussing a large second portion of a bonding initiative for renovations to the Raymond-Ambler house. The farm's actual budget was $14,000 in 2009, $19,000 in 2010, and is proposed to be $20,526 in fiscal year 2011.
"Ambler Farm is open for the community's benefit as open space, organic farm and organic resource and that kind of encapsulates what we are and what we've been trying to do," Bell said.
According to Bell, the farm maintains general goals of offering quality agriculture, historic education, organically-grown produce, and wants to maintain its building and land, while providing a "gathering space for the community and becoming an integral part of it," and also raising money for its management and in efforts to be self-supporting,
Looking ahead to 2011, the farm has more specific goals of improving and expanding program offerings for adults, providing more environmental, ecological, and sustainable programming, improving fund raising, and securing funding for the Raymond-Ambler House, as well as improving volunteer membership.
The proposed budget increase was largely directed at defraying rising costs for fuel, electricity, trash removal, and other such maintenance fees, and also covering smaller repairs like repainting some of the facilities. Nevertheless, with most other town departments coming in with zero percent budget increases, the Board of Selectmen seemed somewhat surprised at the proposed budget figure.
"That's a pretty major increase over a short period of time," said Selectman Hal Clark. "It's difficult, frankly, to understand how we can afford that in this environment."
Also at issue is the large bonding initiative begun in 2007 to restore the Raymond-Ambler House. The $1 million project was to be split into two payments, both of $500,000, with one coming that year and another set to in 2011. However, with economic pressures being what they are, the Friends of Ambler Farm are asking for that second payment to be dispersed equally over both 2011 and 2012, $250,000 each year.
Bell said phase one of the project, which included demolition and framing, is complete and the farm would like to continue with the second phase, which consists of structural stabilization of the building, and for which it currently has most of the necessary funding.
"Ideally, we would like to finish the structural repairs and then go into the finishing," she said. "We have the funds, basically, to do all the structural repairs with the town bonding, the STEAP grant, and private donations...but we don't have the funding to do the finishing phase and the $250,000 we're requesting from the town would be to start that...money would also come from grants and private funding to do the finishing phase."
Bell said the town also receives a small boon from the farm's rental of the property. By her calculations, the farm will have paid Wilton $96,000 in rent by the end of 2011 (including an increase of five percent in rent each year), and during the same time period, the town will have paid $62,719 in expenses (electricity, etc.).
Selectman Richard Creeth, acknowledging the difficulty of meeting such a funding request in the midst of the current economic climate, asked what would happen if the farm didn't receive the funds this year. Bell responded with two scenarios: either they would move forward with the structural and stabilization repairs and wouldn't move forward with the last phase or, perhaps, they might be able to raise enough money through their capital campaign and would be able to begin some of the finalization work.
Ideally, however, the farm would like to complete the project as planned in one fell swoop.
"The Building Committee and the Friends of Ambler Farm feel it would be important to get the building all done at once so that it could be put to use and the project not spread out longer, but realizing also that the climate is not always the best for funding big building projects."
Ambler plans to use the Raymond-Ambler House for a variety of purposes, including office space, a meeting room, museum-like exhibits and period rooms, and possibly even as living space for summer interns in the future.
Bell also included attendance figures at the farm this year. Ambler drew 554 children through youth and school programs, 91 adults, 125 families for events geared toward that demographic, rough 2200 people to Ambler Farm Day (the figure is an estimate, as they charge by the car), and the farm stand brings in an additional 50 people a day during its 16-week run.