Stewart offers Common Council 'barest of bare-bones' budget

Published on Wednesday, 11 April 2018 21:26
Written by Skyler Frazer

@SFrazerNBH

NEW BRITAIN - Mayor Erin Stewart presented a “bare-bones” $237.7 million 2018-19 budget to the Common Council Wednesday, down more than 1.5 percent from the current fiscal year’s operating budget.

“What the council’s receiving tonight, honestly, I truly feel, is a ‘barest of the bare-bones’ budget,” Stewart told The Herald.

Her proposed budget totals $237,729,089, compared to the current budget of $241.53 million, a reduction of 1.58 percent.

The Stewart budget, which will be available on the city’s website, includes no tax increase. It also fully funds the city’s pension obligations and takes into account a 10 percent reduction in state aid that city officials expect.

“It has no tax increase, no layoffs and no service cuts, which is a huge win for city. But it certainly was not easy to get there,” Stewart said.

Last month, the city’s Board of Finance and Taxation sent a budget recommendation of $251,553,733 to Stewart.

The proposal was about $10 million more than the city’s current budget, representing about a 4 percent increase.

Stewart made about $13 million in changes to the recommendation, including more than $1 million in cuts to the city side of the budget.

Stewart said her team went through every line item of each department’s budget to see what they actually spent in 2017 and what they think they’ll end up spending at the end of this fiscal year.

“What they requested was different and often times higher than what they actually realized, so we just took an average of all of that and brought many, many line items down,” Stewart said.

Some savings were found through reductions in the fire department’s overtime budget because the department is now fully staffed.

Four vacant patrol officer positions for the New Britain Police Department will remain unfilled since the federal grant assisting in funding the positions has been eliminated.

Still, the department will be fully staffed after Police Chief James Wardwell fills the 12 positions the department is currently hiring for. The city also reduced apprentice positions in the telecommunications division.

“On top of that we just went through with a fine-toothed comb - cutting here, cutting there. It all added up,” Stewart said.

The city’s recent debt restructuring also helped cut the finance board’s initial recommendation, and Stewart used $4 million from the city’s Tax Stabilization Fund to keep the property tax rate at 50.50 mills.

Stewart said the city’s $18 million “rainy day fund” is untouched in her proposal.

The mayor’s budget proposal gives the Board of Education the same amount it now receives.

In March, School Superintendent Nancy Sarra gave the Common Council a request for $128.7 million for the school system, about 2.4 percent more than its current budget.

Stewart said holding the Board of Education’s budget steady is a reality the city has to face, and she thinks Sarra’s restructuring of the school district will help it save money.

Sarra has said that the school district could face staffing cuts if given the same amount as it is currently allotted. Last year, the Board of Education asked for a budget increase of less than 1 percent, but was funded at the level of the prior year.

The school district ranks 167th of 169 in the state in per-pupil expenditure and gets the fifth-highest amount of aid from the state.

Between a lack of taxable property in the city and reductions in state aid in recent years, there is little wiggle room in the city’s budget without having to cut services or lay people off.

The mayor said she thinks her proposal is a forward-thinking, realistic move for the city.

“The budget is solid, I think we’re in a really good place,” Stewart said. “We’re maintaining. It’s not easy, but we’re maintaining.”

Alderman Carlo Carlozzi said he didn’t agree with Stewart’s assertion that the proposed budget won’t raise taxes.

“I’m disappointed that, with a 6 percent increase in the Grand List, that the mill rate did not decrease by 6 percent,” Carlozzi told The Herald after the presentation.

He said the city’s recent property revaluation means residents’ taxes will go up if the property tax rate isn’t cut. If a $100,000 house was revalued at $106,000, the property owner will pay more in taxes on that property, Carlozzi contended.

The Common Council must adopt a budget by June, so it is now the council’s turn to hold budget hearings and make adjustments.

Skyler Frazer can be reached at 860-801-5087 or by email at sfrazer@centralctcommunications.com.



Posted in New Britain Herald, New Britain on Wednesday, 11 April 2018 21:26. Updated: Wednesday, 11 April 2018 21:29.