BERLIN - The Republican-majority Town Council voted 4-2 along party lines to reduce the Board of Finance’s recommended budgets Monday night, putting an end to a six-month process.
$300,000 was slashed from the education budget and $196,000 was cut from the general government side. The totals for each budget came out to $43.5 million for education and $44.3 million for general government.
The finance board, in a meeting immediately after the council meeting, unanimously set the tax rate at 32.50 mills, an increase of 0.89 mills, or 2.8 percent.
“I think we need to take into account what the voters say,” said Mayor Mark Kaczynski during the meeting. Proposed budgets had been rejected twice at referendum.
People at the public hearing last week were speaking about cuts that were never going to happen, Kaczynski added, adding that that the education budget was still getting a $550,000 increase.
After the meeting he told The Herald the general government budget 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,” council Democrat JoAnn Angelico-Stetson said during the meeting. “You have to pay for it.”
With the vote, the council didn’t take the offer from Board of Finance Chairman Sam Lomaglio to use $300,000 of the additional $680,000 in state aid the town received as part of the latest state budget deal. The deal would have reduced the 1.11-mill tax rate increase his board had 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, who represents Berlin, until the day after it made its recommendations to the council that the funds are sure to come.
In the past two years the state has rescinded some municipal aid.
Kaczysnki said the funds would still go into the general fund and be used on a contingency basis. Such a move would need council approval, then finance board appropriation, explained Finance Director Kevin Delaney.
Kacyznksi expressed concern about receiving state aid, but Aresimowicz said aid won’t be cut.
In order to add the money as revenue, the council would have had to reject the budgets to trigger a 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 have 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.
Kaczynski said he was not violating the charter by putting the new state aid revenue into the general fund account for later.
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 -with the $40,000 middle school phones being funded by the school board this fiscal year; 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.
The school board will meet Monday to discuss how to address the $300,000 cut, Tencza said, after he asked School Superintendent Brian Benigni to make recommendations. Kaczynski and Lomaglio said they would both talk to 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.