BERLIN - Tonight is the final night for the town council to make a decision on the proposed 2018-19 education and general government budgets.
Mayor Mark Kaczynski said Friday he was exploring some different options on what to do with the proposed $43.9 education and $45.5 general government budgets proposed by the Board of Finance last week, but didn’t want to disclose details of the options. The current proposals represent a 1.11-mill, or 3.5 percent, tax rate increase to the current 31.61 mills tax rate.
The meeting comes after Board of Finance chairman Sam Lomaglio, Tuesday, proposed using $300,000 of an additional $680,000, in state aid the town received in the latest budget deal, to reduce the tax levy on his board’s recommendations, made Monday night. The $300,000 would go into the general fund and the remaining additional state aid would go into savings, Lomaglio said.
The funds weren’t included in the finance board’s recommendations because, Lomaglio said, he didn’t find out the funds were guaranteed to stay – and not reduced mid-year like in the past – until Tuesday.
“We just think it would be a win-win for everybody,” Lomaglio said. Everything people at a public hearing last week said they wanted funded, from education programs to town services, would be, and the tax burden could be lowered to a .98 mills increase, he said.
But, as part of the offer, the council must agree to not make any cuts to either proposed budget, Lomaglio said. The proposals are $250,000 higher on the education side and $121,000 higher on the general government side than what the council had sent to the second referendum. Over 12 percent of voters rejected proposals in those votes, saying they were too high in response to advisory questions.
The council made cuts in those amounts – plus $100,000 on the general government side before projects that have since been deferred to next year because it’s too late in this year to start and finish them by desired deadlines - prior to the second referendum. The council made the cuts after the finance board cut about $1 million from their first proposals, in response to 16.9 percent of voters rejecting he budgets at a first referendum, saying they were too high in response to advisory questions.
The council can accept the recommendations or reduce them and adopt the budgets, or reject them. Rejecting them would trigger a joint Town Council and finance board meeting, in which nine votes are needed to adopt the budgets. The only way to add the additional revenue into the budget would be to reject the budgets, per the charter, corporation counsel said last week.
Kaczynski said he was hesitant to take the deal from Lomaglio, after he said the board of finance reneged on an informal agreement to move around $1 million in capital projects to bonding. He also thought, after a joint meeting prior to the public hearing, the finance board was going to make cuts to the budgets, not restore funding.
Lomaglio said the moving capital to bonding idea was irresponsible after looking at the numbers because it would have added to the town’s debt load, and there was no agreement from the joint board meeting, with final decisions on reccomendations to the council not happening until after the public hearing.
Lomaglio added on Wednesday, he would like to use the remaining additional state-aid funds to fund security two additional security positions to be placed at two elementary schools. A security director, to oversee all of the school’s security operations, would be placed at the third elementary school. The idea to fund those position came from Kaczynski when he asked Benigni, who said the district was looking into background check security technology, about using funds remaining at the end of the year for the positions, given recent school shooting events around the country.
School board president Matt Tencza said, wherever the money came from, he wants to make sure the positions and technology, will be securely funded in budgets to come.
Kaczynski said Friday, when he makes his decision, he is more inclined to listen to the voters who rejected the budgets, than people at the public hearing. Those people at the hearing were there speaking against cuts – like trash collection and senior center removal - that were never going to happen, when the finance board proposed a zero mill increase.
Lomaglio said the town needed to be shown what it would take to get to a zero-mill increase. He has contended throughout the process the first budgets proposed to the council, which funded $2.2 million in capital – to catch up on infrastructure projects that have been postponed in years past, were responsible budgets.
The meeting begins at 7 p.m. at the Berlin-Peck Memorial Library, 234 Kensington Rd.
Charles Paullin can be reached at 860-801-5074 or firstname.lastname@example.org.