BERLIN - The Town Council Tuesday night cut $221,000 from the proposed general government budget and $250,000 from the proposed education budget before sending them to referendum.
The new $44.4 million general government and $43.6 education budgets - to be voted on Tuesday, May 22 - will result in a tax rate increase of 0.95 mills, or 3 percent, said Finance Director Kevin Delaney.
That tax increase is down from the 3.6 percent (1.13 mills) recommended by the Board of Finance after the that panel cut $1 million from the general government side and nothing from the education budget after the previous referendum.
Some 16.9 percent of voters overwhelmingly rejected the proposed $45.6 million general government and $43.9 million education budgets on April 24. Voters said both were too high in response to advisory questions.
The current tax rate for Berlin property owners is 31.61 mills.
A result of that referendum rejection, the budgets were sent back to the finance board, which had 10 business days to revise the spending plans and send them to the council.
“It was a responsible thing to do, based on the vote,” Deputy Mayor Brenden Luddy, a Republican, said after moving to reduce the school board’s budget.
The council voted 4-3 along party lines, with Republicans the majority, to adopt the education budget change. Kaczynski said the amount of the reduction was appropriate, after not getting guidance from the school board on how much to cut.
School board President Matt Tencza said Monday night at a Board of Education meeting that the school board already made cuts up front, along with recalculations in health insurance and benefits, to make its request a 1.99 percent increase, down from 4.3 percent.
“I don’t see how we would be able to absorb” that kind of cut, Tencza said Thursday, after the council’s decision.
Removing middle school sports, a special education Effective School Solutions program, AP courses, and extracurricular activities at the high school, and implementation of pay-to-play athletics are considerations the district faces now, he said.
Anticipated retirements wouldn’t be enough to make up the difference, as replacement would need to be made, and the elimination of administrative positions and three teachers has already happened, he said.
Decisions will be made after the result of the second referendum is final, he said.
“We thought a couple of more cuts were in order,” said Kaczynski, on why the council made additional cuts on the general government side.
The council voted 4-3 down party lines 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 Town Manager Jack Healy said the school board found funding for - and carpeting at McGee Middle School.
Democratic councilors opposed all the cuts to both budgets saying the general government was cut enough and the education and the school board’s request was reasonable.
Finance Board chairman Sam Lomaglio questioned how the council could make cuts without attending the finance board meetings in which the budget changes were discussed. Kaczynski said he’s been a part of the budget process for two years to give him experience on the budget.
He added voters were misguided by ‘axe the tax’ signs around town and if they knew what the increases were for, they would’ve voted yes on the budget. Kaczynski said people should be allowed to speak their opinion with the signs, and said he heard teachers were advocating for the budgets in their classes.
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 based on a breakdown of the people who voted for and against the budgets.
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.