BERLIN - The Town Council adopted the town’s $85.2 million budget for the 2017-18 fiscal year Monday after appropriating $150,000 savings by planning on not filling a vacant position in public grounds and an expected vacancy, through an expected retirement, in the tax collector’s office.
“This has been in talks for a while,” said Mayor Mark Kaczynski on Tuesday on the savings plan, adding that though not set in stone, he is 99 percent sure the public grounds position will not be filled and the retirement will be realized. A plan to reorganize responsibilities within the department and office affected should be finalized by July 1, when the 2017-18 budget will take effect, Kaczynski added.
With the 2.4 percent increase over this year’s operating budget, the tax rate will increase by 0.8 mills to 31.61 mills, which equates to a 2.5 percent increase.
For a house valued at $250,000, taxes would increase $140 annually. The budget sent at referendum represented a 2.8 percent tax rate increase to 31.68 mills.
There were no changes to the Board of Education budget.
“I think (we’re) very generous to the Board of Ed, and that’s by their own words, too. I don’t feel like we’ve shorted them by any means this year,” said Kaczynski, alluding to the addition of $500,000 to the school board before the referendum to give them a $43 million operating budget - a 2.5 percent increase from the current operating budget.
“As we all know, as we just stated, it’s a very difficult budget year,” Kaczynski said. “We know we’re going to have some issues by the state. So I think it’s only prudent and responsible, that we are as lean as we can be going forward with the town budget.”
The 4-3 vote along party lines, with Republicans in the majority, came after the budget failed at referendum, 780 to 329, and was sent to the council to be adopted by May 10, according to the town charter, but was voted down by them at a special meeting last week. The voter turnout was 7.9 percent of the electorate in town.
Last week’s special meeting included $50,000 added to the Board of Education from the same $150,000 savings on the town side. Republican Councilor Charles Paonessa, not wanting to support the appropriation of funds for the board that he claimed is top heavy by appropriating majority of their funds to administrative salaries, sided with the three Democrats, who did not want to cut from the town budget.
Paonessa told The Herald Tuesday that he switched his vote on Monday because the cut to the town side was the best deal he could get to keep taxes as low as possible.
“When you guys put that money back into the Board of Education I applauded you,” said Democratic Councilor Rachel Rochette.
Her fellow Democratic councilors also expressed their disappointment about the ignoring of voters who said the Board of Education budget was too low.
“I think for 400 people, that’s less than 5 percent of the electorate to cause us to eliminate two positions…and I don’t see how it makes the town better.”
Not included in the budget is a potential $5 million hit from a lack of state funding and an increase in town spending for teacher pensions, which comes to $2.4 million, from the governor’s proposed budget. According to 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 valued at $250,000, the property tax increase would be $569 annually. However, recent reports have indicated the governor’s budget was short in revenue predictions, meaning the impact could be worse, Delaney said Thursday.
It is unclear when the state will adopt its budget. The Connecticut General Assembly is in session until June 7.