BERLIN - The Town Council took no action Tuesday on Board of Finance budget recommendations that would restore funding to the 2019 education and general government budgets.
“We just think it would be a win-win for everybody,” said Board of Finance Chairman Lomaglio on Tuesday of his plan to use $300,000 of an additional $680,000 in Education Cost Sharing funds the town to reduce the tax levy.
The money would be put into the general fund and used to fund whatever the town wishes, while reducing the tax levy, Lomaglio said Wednesday. He said people at a public hearing Monday had asked for cooperation between elected officials and that this plan would achieve that.
On Wednesday, Lomaglio added that he would be interested in using some of the remaining ECS funds to also fund two additional security positions, to oversee elementary schools, as well as security technology.
A security director, who would oversee all security aspects in the school district, is already included in the budget proposal, and would be placed at the third elementary school. Funding for the director position is $60,000 to $80,000, with the two security positions underneath it, explained School Superintendent Brian Benigni. He said he was unsure how much the technology, focused on background checks, would cost.
Lomaglio said he wants to make sure, though, that the money for the positions wouldn’t be removed from future budgets by finance board and council members.
He wanted to use the additional ECS funds to begin the process of hiring for the positions as soon as possible, as opposed to waiting to use left over end of the year funds, an unknown amount until the end of the year.
“It’s school safety we’re talking about here,” said school board President Matt Tencza, wanting protection of the funds that would add to the requested increase of 1.99 percent in the education budget. He said it didn’t matter where the money came from.
The idea of funding the security positions came from Mayor Mark Kaczynski on Tuesday, when he spoke with Benigni at the council meeting.
“I think armed officers, which is horrible, that we’ve got to resort to that at all our schools in the whole country now, but that’s, I guess, the world we’re living in, unfortunately,” said Kaczynski.
But, as part of the deal, the council must not make any further cuts to the $43.9 million education and $45.5 million million general government budgets, which fully fund education and more town services. The two had $250,000 and $121,000 cut from them, respectively, for the second referendum, which proposed a 0.95-mill tax rat increase. Those proposed budgets are higher budget amounts than what voters rejected at that referendum, saying they were too high.
The current proposals represent a 1.11-mill, or 3.5 percent, tax rate increase. Using only the $300,000 in additional funds would lower the increase to 0.98 mills.
Most residents at the Monday public hearing spoke against education and town service cuts, with two saying education salaries, reducing school administrators and leasing Timberlin Golf Course could be explored.
Kacyznski did not return a request for comment on the additional ECS funds going toward the security positions and technology, but said Wednesday morning he was in favor of using money remaining at the end of the year from the schools’ current budget for the positions.
At the council meeting, he said, “I’m a little hesitant for many reasons” on Lomaglio’s Tuesday propsal - one of them being because the last agreement the board and council had made to move capital projects to bonding had been reneged on by the finance board, Kaczynski said.
Kaczynski also said he had been under the impression that the finance board was going to only add $72,000 to the school budget and use the additional ECS funds to offset the tax burden, based on an agreement at a joint Town Council and finance board meeting last Thursday.
“We never flip-flopped,” Lomaglio told The Herald. He added that no deal had been made at the joint meeting.
The proposal came after Lomaglio said that he had learned Tuesday from House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, who represents Berlin, that the ECS funds would not be reduced later in the year.
Finance Director Kevin Delaney had said the state has cut money from ECS the past two years.
The town can use the additional ECS funds almost anywhere because the education budget is funded at the same level it was last year, plus at least $132,948 - the difference in ECS funds from this year, before the governor’s cuts, and next year’s amount. If the ECS funds don’t go toward reducing the tax levy or security positions, they would go to town savings.
The next meeting will be Monday, June 11, at 6:30 p.m. at the Berlin-Peck Memorial Library.
Charles Paullin can be reached at 860-801-5074 or firstname.lastname@example.org.