BERLIN - The Board of Finance restored funding to the education and general government budgets Monday night after several residents, during a public hearing before the board’s vote, voiced discontent on proposed cuts.
The $43.9 million education and $45.5 general government were sent to the council in a 5-0 vote, with board member Sal Bordonaro absent.
They represent a 1.11 mills, or 3.5 percent, increase to the current 31.61 mills tax rate. On a house valued at $250,000 that’s a $194 increase in annual property taxes.
“For $194 a year we’re going to fund education, we’re going to fund the town with the needs that they need,” said Finance board chairman Sam Lomaglio. “So I hope the council can see through this and forget the 12 percent vote. I think if they were here they would support this also.”
The budgets were sent back to the finance board to make recommended changes to the Town Council for final budget adoption after they were rejected at a May referendum, which came after they were rejected at an April referendum.
The budgets rejected at the second referendum which the finance board started working with represented a .95 mills tax increase, with voters saying bother were too high in response to advisory questions at both referendums.
The recommendations are the same budgets they sent to the council before the council took out $250,000 from the school system and $221,000 from the general government budget, before they were sent to the second referendum, plus an additional $100,000 less from the general government budget.
The $100,000 is comprised by deferring until next year the bonding for repairing Scalise field, because it can’t be completed by the Fall sports season, and the town’s portion of partially state funded Burnham Street bridge repairs, because the state funds are tied up in its frozen Special Transportation Fund. Some road repaving will also be defred until next year.
School board President Matt Tencza had previously said if the $250,000 cut to the education budget stuck, middle school sports, an Effective School Solutions and elementary art and music program and more were among options for reduction. Imposition of parking and sports playing fees could also occur, he said.
Monday, he said the school board already cut about $1.9 million in reductions of all new requests; three teachers, paraprofessionals and other staff members; and by sharing insurance and benefits miscalculations.
There was a question on if the education budget would meet minimum funding requirements, but the restoration of the $250,000 eliminated that, Town Finance Director Kevin Delaney said.
The $221,000 restored to the general government budget went toward funding a replacement police cruiser, the telephone system at the middle and elementary schools, and a van for education transportation.
“That’s just throwing out the whole election process, I guess,” Mayor Mark Kaczynski told reporters after the board decision to not listen to the 16.9 and 12.6 percent of voters at the first two referendums, respectively.
He said he was unsure what the council was going to do but he would like to see the mill rate lowered a little bit more by using half of the additional funds the town is expected to receive from the state as part of the latest 2019 state legislature budget deal. He said the council could cut the education budget too if they wanted too.
Lomaglio said during the meeting because the town hasn’t actually received the funds yet, it wasn’t wise to spend them. The past two years the state has rescinded some funds from towns, Delaney has said.
The finance board had previously discussed recommending a zero-mill tax reduction in response to voter’s actions. They were discussing $2.2 million in cuts to achieve that goal by way of removing trash collection, turning off street lights, closing the senior center and parks and recreation departments and more.
“It was just an exercise we did because the ‘axe the tax’ signs were up and we felt that we had to do that…and get people out here to realize that we can’t do zero,” said Lomaglio in his opening remarks of the public hearing.
During the public hearing over 20 people spoke, with several speaking against cuts to education, including the daughter of former Mayor Rachel Rochette.
Rochette’s daughter, a junior at Berlin High School in the ESS program, said she attempted suicide recently by swallowing 52 Benadryl pills, but then asked for help from clinicians as part of the ESS program, which she said ultimately saved her life.
Several other residents voiced support for the senior center and programs it offers, as others, including House Speaker Joe Aresiwmoicz, said elected officials need to cooperate regardless of party affiliation. Others said residents need to get involved more by attending hearings and voting.
One person said he disagreed with the point that teachers should get raises at the end of the year, which is one contributing factor to the educations 1.99 percent increase. Another said reducing administrative education positions could lessen the impact of cuts to the education budget.
Kaczysnki told reporters after the meeting he questioned what the point of the hearing was if the cuts weren’t going to happen. Lomaglio said during the hearing nothing was final until the board voted after the public hearing.
The council, starting today, has five days to either accept or reduce and adopt the budgets, or reject them and trigger a joint Town Council and finance board meeting, in which nine votes are needed to adopt a budget. If nine votes can’t be attained for a budget, then these budgets the finance board sent to the council will be adopted.
They will discuss the budget tonight as part of their regular meeting at 7 p.m. in the Town Council Chambers of Town Hall, 240 Kensington Rd.
Charles Paullin can be reached by 860-801-5074 or firstname.lastname@example.org.