BERLIN - Residents vote Tuesday on the town’s proposed $85.3 million budget, which, if accepted, will go into effect on July 1.
Polls will be open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. at all regular voting locations.
The vote comes after over a month and a half of discussion and deliberation involving department heads, the Board of Education and residents.
The overall budget is up 2.5 percent from last year’s $83.2 million, and doesn’t include the potential $5 million hit from a lack of state funding and increase in town spending for teacher retirement pensions, which comes to $2.4 million, from the governor’s proposed budget.
To account for the increase from last year’s budget, the tax rate is projected to increase from 30.81 mills to 31.68, or 2.8 percent. For a house assessed at $250,000, that tax would increase by $150 annually.
Department heads initially requested $93.2 million before former Town Manager Denise McNair and now interim Town Manager Jack Healy reduced the figure to $90 million.
After hearings involving department heads and members of the council budget subcommittee, which includes all members of the Town Council, the subcommittee further slashed the budget to the $85.3 million.
The proposed $43 million Board of Education budget represents 50 percent of the overall budget.
The board initially requested $43.9 million, a 4.7 percent or $1.9 million increase from last year, as a status-quo budget, meaning nothing was added or removed from the previous year. The increase was driven primarily by contracted salary increases. In an effort to not raise taxes and with the uncertainty of funding cuts from the state, the council initially reduced the school board’s request by $1.4 million.
Following two public hearings, in which over 20 residents spoke against the cuts to the Board of Ed budget, and a letter sent out to parents of children in the school district, Mayor Mark Kaczynski and council budget subcommittee Chairman David Evans met with Erwin, Tencza and education resource committee member Jeffrey Cugno and reallocated $500,000 from the town side to the school board’s side.
The final allotment for the Board of Education is a 2.7 percent or $1 million increase from last year’s budget. The $900,000 reduction to this year’s request is roughly the same amount as last year’s $1 million cut, as the overall board budget increase is greater than the 1.22 percent, 1.5 percent and 1.41 percent increase from the last three years, respectively.
As a result of the board’s budget request cut, 11 positions we proposed to be cut at a recent Board of Education meeting, including an assistant principal at the elementary school level, two elementary school teachers - in addition to the initially requested Hubbard elementary school teacher - and two family and consumer science teachers at the middle school level.
Tencza has said while the $900,000 in cuts means difficult decisions need to be made, he understands the challenge the town faces with the state’s $1.7 billion defect and appreciates the addition of $500,000 to the board’s budget.
Included in the budget proposal is a use of $1.8 million from the fund balance - or town savings accounts - and $740,000 of the fund balance added to the underfunded pension plan. The town will have $10.4 million in its fund balance, which is an amount within the range recommended by fiscal experts to retain a favorable bond rating.
Also included in the budget proposal are payments to debt services, which includes payments on the high school renovation project, new fire department vehicles, radio equipment for the police stations, road repairs and school roof repairs.
According to Finance Director Kevin Delaney, if the governor’s proposed budget is realized, the tax rate would increase to 33.89 mills, or 10 percent, in order to account for the $5 million hit. For a house assessed at $250,000, the property tax increase would be $569 annually.
Kaczysnki has said the council would hold another public hearing and consider implementing a supplemental tax bill if the state’s potential funding cuts are realized.
In addition to the proposed budget, there will be two advisory questions on the ballot, to be voted on by voters who reject the proposed budget. One will ask if the proposed Board of Education budget was too high or too low, and the other if the general government budget was too high or too low.
These ballot questions are designed to give guidance to the Town Council on what should be adjusted if the budget fails.
The proposed budget is on the town’s website, town.berlin.ct.us, on the Finance Department page.
Charles Paullin can be reached at 860-801-5074 or email@example.com.