BERLIN - The town council Tuesday night cut $221,000 of the proposed general government and $250,000 out of the proposed education budgets before sending them to referendum.
The new $44.4 million general government and $43.6 education budgets to be voted on May 22 represent a 3 percent tax rate increase, based on the idea from the finance department that each $50,000 cut equaled a .02 percent mill rate reduction.
That increase is down from the 3.6 percent increase recommended to the council by the Board of Finance after they cut $1 million from the general government side and nothing from to the education budget. That finance board proposal had a 1.6 mill rate increase on the current 31.61 mills tax rate.
16.9 percent of voters overwhelmingly rejected the $45.6 million general government and $43.9 million education budgets proposed at the April 24, which had a 5 percent tax increase proposed. They said both were too high in response to advisory questions.
A result of the referendum rejection, the budgets were sent back to the finance board, who had 10 business days to revise the budgets and send them to the council, who needed to send them to the second referendum by Tuesday night.
“It was a responsible thing to do based on the vote,” Republican Deputy Mayor Brenden Luddy said after making the motions to reduce the school board’s budget. The council voted 4-3 down party lines, with Republicans over Democrats to adopt the education budget change.
He said the amount they cut was what they thought was appropriate, while not getting guidance from the school board on how much to cut, which Kaczynski asked for.
School board President Matt Tencza said Monday night at a Board of Education meeting the school board already made cuts up front and left it up to the council do decide where to make cuts.
He, the mayor and council members denied requests to see a copy of a letter Tencza shared with the Mayor and members of the council outlining which items would be first impacted by cuts to the education budget.
“We thought a couple more cuts were in order,” said Kaczynski, a Republican, on why the council made additional cuts on the general government side. The council voted 4-3 down party lines, with Republicans over Democrats to adopt the general government budget change.
The cuts include one police cruiser, a school van, the phone system at McGee middle school – which took up $125,000 of the cuts and Acting Town Manager Jack Healy said the school board found funding for, and carpeting at McGee Middle School.
“We cut them too much as it is,” Democratic Councilor Peter Rosso told the Herald after the meeting in reference to the general government side. “That was reasonable,” he added of the education budget’s 1.99 percent increase request before the council cuts Tuesday night. That increase, which includes cutting two high school and one elementary school teachers, was down from 4.3 percent initially after the school board found miscalculations in benefits and health insurance.
During the public comment portion, finance board chairman Sam Lomaglio questioned how the council could cut the budget, which finance board members called “catch up” budgets by funding neglected capital projects, after not being that involved with the process up until now.
He added the finance board didn’t cut the education budget because he thought the school board put forth a responsible budget, and that voters were “duped” with signs around the town saying “ax the budget.” If voters knew what cuts to the budgets would mean, they would’ve voted yes, he said.
Kaczynski said he’s been involved with the budget for two years now and Lomaglio’s comments on lack of involvement were insulting. He added teachers in schools were saying not to vote against the budget to students, and that anyone’s entitled to put up a sign that isn’t threatening
Rich Paskiewicz, the Democratic mayoral challenger to Kaczynski in November, in the public comment portion, questioned where the need to cut the education budget is coming from about 200 fewer people voted against the education budget than the general government budget. About 140 people more people voted for the education budget than the general government budget, he said.
The next budget referendum is Tuesday at all regular polling places. If the budgets fail a second time they go back to the finance board who recommends changes to the council, who then will ultimately adopt the budget.
Charles Paullin can be reached at 860-801-5074 or firstname.lastname@example.org.