NEWINGTON - School and library proponents are asking for more money as the Town Council moves on to the next stage of the budget process.
At their meeting Tuesday night councilors tentatively approved their 2017-18 budget, cutting $1.2 million from the Board of Education’s already low allotment and rejecting a $27,000 proposal to reinstate Sunday hours at the Lucy Robbins Welles Library.
Reductions to Town Manager Tanya Lane’s $117.6 million budget totaled $1.8 million, after the council’s Republican majority opted to cautiously limit spending in anticipation of a significant drop in state aid later this year.
“It’s never an easy process,” Mayor Roy Zartarian said of the yearly deliberations. “Thank you for all the work and energy you have put into this.”
That didn’t stop several people from leaving the meeting room upset. Superintendent of Schools Bill Collins claimed councilors did not honor a mutually beneficial arrangement they discussed with school officials the week before.
“They just did what they did out of spite,” he said.
According to Collins, the school board agreed to permanently relocate its offices outside of Town Hall, so the town could plan a smaller renovation to the facility. In return, officials would fulfill the schools’ funding request.
Councilors justified the cut with a refund of the same amount, which the board received for employee health benefits and put into a surplus fund to supplement their budget.
“At this point with so much uncertainty at the state Capitol we have to look at every source of revenue we can get our hands on,” Zartarian said.
Democrats hoped to increase the board’s allotment by 2.49 percent, a motion that failed 5-4 Tuesday.
James Marocchini called the cut “a very bad idea.”
“The further and further you’re okay with doing these next-to-nothing budgets the worse off we’re going to be as a town,” he added.
Board Chairwoman Nancy Petronio said it would be “devastating to the district” if the 0.3 percent increase proposed moves forward.
“Along with the loss of two teachers, two integral administrators and our gifted and talented program last year, there’s nowhere else for us to go without hitting the kids hard and cutting programs,” she said.
Petronio and fellow board members are hopeful next week’s public hearing will have a positive impact for the schools.
“I’m hoping if anybody is opposed to what the council did they will come out and speak about it,” she said.
Several citizens spoke in support of the school system Tuesday.
Amy Alexander, a mother of two, said scant funding would hinder growth in programs that are crucial to students.
“I want you to know how important it is to me and other families that you fund the Board of Education,” she said.
Resident Neil Ryan said he has no issue funding the town’s infrastructure needs.
“Newington needs a robust parks and rec facility, an expanded library and a good school system. If my property taxes need to be increased, I consider it an investment to town and money well spent.”
Carol Anest and fellow Democrats proposed the $27,000 increase to the library’s budget, offset by a reduction to the town attorney’s budget. It would be enough to reinstate Sunday hours at the library, a move that would benefit members and local students alike, she pointed out. This motion also failed.
Library Director Lisa Masten said staff and volunteers have expanded their outreach to the community and beyond. Adequate funding would keep the library a destination for lifelong learners.
“This past year, our staff has worked very hard to develop more relationships outside the library that promote collaboration and sharing of resources,” she explained. “We have and are working with the Board of Education to provide the resources to support their curriculums. We have also begun visiting senior living facilities, bringing library materials for residents to check out. As a result of our outreach with the Transition Academy we are now offering a new program for adults with special needs.”
Regular programming for people of all ages is enrichment that just can’t be replaced, Masten pointed out.
“I am very proud of our staff and the hard work they do day in and day out and the services and programs the library offers to our residents,” she continued. “I am thankful for the community support and the support of the library board and our Friends group.”
The Town Council will hear from citizens on its tentative budget at a public hearing set for next Tuesday, April 4, at 6 p.m. in Town Hall, 131 Cedar St.
Erica Schmitt can be reached at 860-801-5097, or firstname.lastname@example.org.