BERLIN - A joint meeting of the Board of Finance and Town Council is scheduled for Thursday as the Board of Finance is discussing a zero mill tax increase, or $2.2 million in additional cuts to town services.
The proposed cuts come after 16.9 percent and 12.6 percent of residents rejected the $44.4 million general government and $43.6 million education budgets at two referendums, respectively, and said they were too high in response to advisory questions.
The finance board has been meeting since the last May 22 rejection to revise the budgets, before sending them to the council for final adoption.
Thursday’s meeting is at 7:30 p.m. in the John “Doc” McIntosh room of Town Hall, 240 Kensington Road.
“We want to have a meeting of the minds,” said finance board Chairman Sam Lomaglio.
Lomaglio said he wants to see if the council supports the zero-mill or low tax increase, and broader financial goals like a 10-year capital improvement plan.
Mayor Mark Kaczynski said he was unsure of what to make of Thursday’s meeting as Lomaglio said the meeting was on, off and then back on, and that Lomaglio and the finance board reneged on a previous deal made by the mayor and finance board at the start of the process.
“They’re off the rails,” added Kaczynski, of the political comments by finance board members and its inability to make a decision on the budgets.
Lomaglio said the council hasn’t given the finance board any direction on how to build the budgets, and then campaigned against the spending plans. Scheduling conflicts led to the changing of the meeting date, he said. He and Kaczynski both said they were hoping for a positive, professional discussion.
The meeting Thursday will come after the finance board met Tuesday night to further discuss ideas for a zero-mill tax increase.
“The Republican party wants a zero (mill increase) and I’m going to give them a god damn zero,” said Lomaglio in the meeting
Kaczynski said Thursday he voted for the budgets at the recent referendum, which had a 0.95-mill increase. Republican Town Committee Chairperson Anne Reilly said the signs were not put up by the Republican party.
Among the items discussed to reach the finance board’s goal is eliminating municipal garbage collection, the Community Services and Parks and Recreation Departments, three people across the Parks and Grounds and Highway Departments, Parks and Ground seasonal help, Economic Development Commission funds, cemetery work, police overtime and lighting for Friday night football.
Also on the chopping block are defunding the Visiting Nurse Association and closures at the library, but the feasibility of such require legal input.
With each service removal or reduction there isn’t a full savings in the budgeted amount as there are contract termination costs and accrued vacation payouts for people laid off, said Town Finance Director Kevin Delaney.
Board member Sal Bordonaro said removing trash collection isn’t a true cut as the savings are being passed on to the residents. Town Manager Jack Healy, a resident of Litchfield, said he pays around $70 a quarter for trash pickup.
Delaney presented the idea of using an additional $500,000 in funding the town received through the latest state budget deal and deferring capital projects to reduce bonding costs, which Bordonaro made a motion to accept. But other members didn’t support those ideas saying it’s unwise to rely on a promise in funding from the state, given the state’s history of such moves.
Flat funding the education budget was also discussed, which would be $600,000 in cuts additional to the $250,000 made by the council before the last referendum.
“The leadership in this town seems to not support education,” said school board President Matt Tencza, during a school board meeting Tuesday. Kaczynski said the Republican majority on the council last year gave the Board of Education one of its largest increase in recent years.
Eliminating middle school, freshman and junior varsity sports, the special education Effective School Solutions program, advanced placement courses, music and art at the elementary schools and extracurricular activities at the high school were all discussed after the cut made prior to the referendum. Adding parking and playing sports fees could also happen.
Lomaglio said the finance board will also get residents' ideas during a public meeting set for June 4 at 7 p.m. in McGee Middle School.
“I don’t think people understand how serious this is,” said finance board member Kevin Guite, Tuesday, amid discussion by the board hoping these cuts can be explained to the residents.
The finance board is looking to vote on its recommendation for the council following the public hearing.
The council can only accept or reduce or reject the budgets presented by the finance board. It cannot make any additions.
If the bugdets are rejected, a joint finance board and council meeting will be triggered in which nine votes are needed to adopt each budget. Otherwise the proposals last recommended by the finance board are adopted.
Delaney said if a budget isn’t adopted by the end of June, services could be reduced, employees could be furloughed and short term bonding may need to happen.
“I don’t know why there is this belief that we’ve proposed an inflated budget or that there’s a slush fund…” Delaney said.
Charles Paullin can be reached at 860-801-5074 or firstname.lastname@example.org.