BERLIN - The Town Council will discuss and possibly vote on a finalized version of the town’s budget Tuesday.
The budget is back on the agenda after the decisive rejection of a proposed $85.3 million budget at referendum last Tuesday, by 780 votes to 329.
The turnout of 1,109 equals 7.9 percent of the 14,040 registered voters in town. Last year’s vote, which coincided with a presidential primary and resulted in a passed budget, saw a 30.3 percent turnout.
Under the Town Charter, the failed referendum means the council will make changes to the budget and then vote on it, adopting it as final, by May 10.
“We’ll have a brief discussion and then possibly vote on it,” said Mayor Mark Kaczynski. “We may have a special meeting to discuss it more.”
Accompanying the budget proposal on the ballot last week were two advisory questions, asking residents who voted no on the budget 1) Was the education portion too high or too low?; and 2) Was the town (or general government) portion too high or low.
Residents voted 366 too high and 429 too low on the first question, and 443 too high and 264 too low on the second.
Kaczysnki said after the referendum vote that the result on Question 1 meant residents felt the education portion of the budget is fine.
But the difference of 179 votes on the town government budget was more noteworthy to him. He said he wasn’t sure how to reduce the town side as it was already cut pretty thin.
The overall budget was up 2.5 percent from this year’s $83.2 million budget. To account for the increase from this year’s budget, the tax rate was going to increase 2.8 percent, or from 30.81 mills to 31.68 mils. The main drivers are payments on the town’s debt service, which includes the high school renovation project and road construction projects, and payments to the town’s underfunded pension plan.
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 seven members of the Town Council, the budget was slashed to the $85.3 million. The cuts were made in anticipation of a 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. The potential hits from the governor’s budget were not factored into this budget, Kaczynski has said.
According to Finance Director Kevin Delaney, if the governor’s proposed budget is realized, the tax rate would increase to 33.89 mills in order to account for the $5 million hit. For a house assessed at $250,000, the property tax increase would be $569 annually.
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 and a lack of available use of funds from grants. The council initially reduced the school board’s request by $1.4 million.
Following two public hearings, in which residents spoke against the initial cuts to the schools, Kaczynski and council budget subcommittee Chairman David Evans met with School Superintendent David Erwin, Tencza and Education Resource Committee member Jeffrey Cugno and reallocated $500,000 from the town side to the school board’s side.
As a result of the board’s final $900,000 budget request cut, 11 positions were 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.
Katherine McGeever, a mother of two children at McGee Middle School, said she voted against the budget, citing it was too low for the schools. “We need to keep teachers employed,” she said.
The next council meeting on Tuesday will begin at 7 p.m. in Town Council Chambers in Town Hall, 240 Kensington Road.
Charles Paullin can be reached at 860-801-5074 or email@example.com