BERLIN - The Town Council voted 4-2 in a party line vote to reduce the Board of Finance recommended budgets Monday night, with Republicans in the majority over Democrats, putting an end to a sixth month budgetary process.
From the education budget, $300,000 was cut as $196,000 was cut from the general government side. The totals for each budget come out to $43.5 for education and $44.3 for general government.
As a result of the allocation, the finance board, in a meeting immediately following the council meeting, set the mill rate at 32.50 mills, a .89 mills, or 2.8 percent tax increase, in a 6-0 vote.
“I think we need to take into account what the voters say,” said Mayor Mark Kaczynski during the meeting. Nearly 17 percent and 12.6 percent of voters rejected the budgets at two referendums, respectfully, and said they were too high in response to advisory questions.
People at the public hearing last week were speaking on cuts that were never going to happen, Kaczynski said, and that the education budget was still getting an over $550,000 increase. After the meeting he told the Herald the general government side had $3.7 million cut from it.
“When you live in a town that provides services and an excellent school system, you don’t get them for nothing,” Democrat Councilor JoAnn Angelico-Stetson said during the meeting. “You have to pay for it.”
Fellow Democrat Councilor Karen Pagliaro said there was no bipartisan cooperation prior to the meeting, but Kazcynski said the Democrats had held a no cut position throughout the entire process. All councilors receive the same information, which was Finance Director Kevin Delaney outlining the dollar amounts and mill rate effects the council made before, and the public meetings were a good time to share any thoughts.
With the vote, the council didn’t take the offer from finance board chairman Sam Lomaglio to use $300,000 of additional $680,000 in state aid the town received as part of the latest state budget deal. The deal would’ve reduced the 1.11 mills tax rate increase his board proposed, but not cut anything further from the budgets.
The finance board recommendations didn’t include the new revenue, Lomaglio said, because he didn’t find out, from House speaker Joe Aresimowicz, until the day after they made their recommendations to the council that the funds are sure to come. In the past two years the state has rescinded some municipal aid.
But, Kaczysnki said, the funds would still go into the general fund and be used as contingency in case anything comes up during the year, and if the Board of Education or general government comes up short by any funds. Such a move would need council approval then finance board appropriation, explained Delaney after the meeting.
“We don’t really know,” said Kacyznksi during the meeting on what may happen with the state having a new legislature and governor in the fall, he said and if the money will actually come in, since it comes in two waves of 25 percent and a third wave of 50 percent.
The additional state aid cannot be cut, Aresimowicz said after the meeting, which he was in attendance of, citing legislation that was passed ensuring it.
In order to add the money as revenue, the council would’ve had to reject the budgets so in a triggered joint finance board meeting, in which nine votes are needed to adopt a budget, so the additional revenue could be added in. The only other two options the council could’ve made were to adopt the budgets as they were, or reduce them.
“It’s (the mayor’s) prerogative,” said Lomaglio after the council’s decision. He said the mayor’s decision was “voodoo economics” and that budgets should be set at the beginning of the year and followed, not given appropriations through the year. The mayor was lacking leadership pandering to both sides by cutting the budgets and saying funds could be used later, and the finance board won’t appropriate funds later in the year unless there is a crisis. Kaczynski said making a decision to listen to the voters was an act of leadership.
Kaczynski said he was not violating the charter by putting the new revenue into the general fund account for later use and not rejecting the budgets to put them in now.
The council cannot make line item decisions on the education budget, only a lump sum allocation, but school board President Matt Tencza said previously a $250,000 cut could mean a reduction in middle school sports, a special education Effective School Solutions program, elementary art and music or more. Imposition of parking and sports fees could also occur, he said.
The cuts to the general government side came by way of a new police cruiser and upgraded equipment at $39,000; phones at the elementary schools and middle school at $125,000; and a new school transportation van at $32,000.
“Disappointed, in fact, I guess I’m angry about it,” said Tencza, after a school board meeting Monday night. He said people’s voices at the public hearing are just as valuable as the voters. “You can’t stand in front of all these people last Monday and say your supporting something and then turn around and reduce it,” he said.
Once programs at the beginning of the year are cut, they are gone, Tencza added, and that if the council wanted to save the funds for reallocation, it didn’t make sense why the funds weren’t given to them now. Programs like sports need to make their schedules at the beginning of the year knowing if funding will be in place, finance board member Mark Holmes said.
Kaczynski reiterated the school board should be able to make a $300,000 cut work and if they are short at the end of the year then they can come back to the council for more funds.
The school board will meet Monday to discuss how to address the $300,000 cut, Tencza said, after he asked Superintendent of Schools Brian Benigni to make recommendations. Kaczynski and Lomaglio said they would both talk to the Tencza to discuss next year’s budget.
“Less rhetoric, more cooperation,” said Kaczynski, adding he would like to see everyone move forward together now that the budget is done.
Charles Paullin can be reached at 860-801-5074 or firstname.lastname@example.org.