BERLIN — The $43.9 schools and $45.6 general government budgets sent to referendum for next year have a proposed 5.01 percent tax increase after an alternative general government budget to lower the increase, but add more debt, failed to gain it’s nine needed votes Monday night.
The joint Town Council and Board of Finance board had eight votes for the alternative idea, four against it and one abstention from it, in the meeting held after the council last week rejected the board of finance built budgets with the same figures as the ones now going to referendum.
“I don’t feel like with this budget we’ve done our job,” said Republican Mayor Mark Kaczynski, as he and three fellow republican councilors voted against it Monday night after advocating for a lower tax increase than what was voted on.
Republican Sal Bordonaro of the Board of Finance was the one abstention, as the three Democratic councillors and remaining finance board members with two republicans, two Democrats and one independent voted for the alternative plan.
The meeting on Monday forced, per charter, after the town council voted to reject the budget last Wednesday, with an unofficial plan to move $1.1 million of $2.2 million in capital items to short term bonding as a way to lessen the tax burden on residents. The items include replacement plow trucks, police vehicles, safety communication equipment at the schools and other infrastructure improvements.
The council voted 3-3 the night prior to send the budgets to referendum, as the finance board presented them, with Kaczynski absent from the meeting due to what he said was a scheduled work conflict.
The bonding idea was proposed by Kaczynski last Wednesday and informally agreed upon by all members of the council and four members of the finance board, who were in attendance, after the two elected bodies discussed the idea in a recess session during the meeting.
The move would have lowered the proposed tax increase from 5.2 percent to 3.7 percent, or from $292 on a house valued at $250,000 to $204.
Once looking at the numbers on the bonding idea, which would’ve had the town pay $60,000 in interest next year and about $400,000 in principal and interest payments in each of the following three years, the finance board proposed the alternative to only move a couple items to bonding.
Those being funds for proactive bridge repairs and emergency road maintenance funds budgeted for in anticipation of no state aid for them. The two totaled $341,000 and would have been included in the $1.5 million planned to be bonded for road repairs, with the actual road repairs being paid with the remaining funds.
The alternative move would have lowered the mill rate increase to 4.4 percent, or $247, on that same house.
“It’s not solving the problems,” said Republican finance board Chairman Sam Lomaglio during the Monday meeting on the bonding idea by Kaczynski. He said next year’s budgets would be “ugly” by having the town tie themselves into more debt payments.
“I don’t want to continue down the path of just constantly swiping the credit card” said Republican finance board member Kevin Guite, who was not at the council meeting last week, on the bonding idea.
He shared, by his own research, Berlin had a low mill rate dating back to the 2013-2014 year, compared to neighboring towns of Southington, Cromwell, Plainville, Rocky Hill and Newington, meaning the town wasn’t investing in itself as other municipalities had. This year’s capital funding was $98,000.
Kaczynski said the low mill rate had made the town appealing to businesses to open shop in town.
“I really do feel like it’s just kicking the can down the road,” said Democrat JoAnn Angelico-Stetson, on the bonding idea.
“I feel like there’s a middle ground,” said Alex Giannone in an attempt to lower the mill rate more. Members of the finance board and the Democratic councilors said if the budget fails, what cuts would be made then if more was cut Monday night.
Bordonaro said during the meeting he thought the bonding idea was a good compromise and he had heard from residents who were concerned with the tax increase.
He told The Herald Tuesday he couldn’t bring himself to vote either way on the budget since the agreement made between the council and finance board last week wasn’t being honored.
Councilor Brendan Luddy said he would’ve liked to see a tax rate increase below 4 percent.
Finance Director Kevin Delaney said the general government alternative would have been favored over the bonding capital idea by rating agencies as it didn’t ignore the capital and debt policies the town adopted last year. It would have also been a reactive, not proactive move, he added.
Last week he said it would not be prudent to add bonding for the capital items.
As a result of not getting the nine votes, the budgets sent to referendum are the same the finance board sent to the council for consideration.
As a result of grand list growth being larger than anticipated after assessment appeals hearing, the needed revenue from taxes to make up the difference isn’t as great.
The proposed new tax rate was adjusted to 33.21 mills, from 33.28 mills when the finance board sent their budget to the council. Two assessment appeals are in the process of going to court and could change again though, Delaney said. The current tax rate is 31.61 mills.
The referendum is on April 24 and will take place at all regular polling places. If the budget fails, it is sent back to the board of finance to start the process all over, leading to a second referendum.
If the budgets fails at a second referendum, then the budgets start with the finance board again before going to the council, or joint board if needed again, where approval of their final versions is made.
This is the first year the schools and general government budgets are voted on separately. They can be found on the Finance Department page of the town’s website, town.berlin.ct.us.
Charles Paullin can be reached at 860-801-5074 or firstname.lastname@example.org.