This is the seventh in a series of stories on the upcoming year. Previous installments are available at NewBritainHerald.com.
By Erica Schmitt
This year shapes up as an especially challenging one for Newington.
Foremost is a $3.4 million loss in state aid looming over Newington town officials as they proceed into 2018-19 budget deliberations.
“There’s no way out; we’ve got to address that,” Mayor Roy Zartarian said.
As head of the Town Council, he and fellow councilors will receive Town Manager Tanya Lane’s budget proposal in March. In the draft will be each department’s requested funding allotments, tailored by the town’s financial team.
According to Lane, December’s differential motor vehicle tax bills that accounted for 4.59 mills will generate around $1 million in revenue to the town. The town’s Capital Improvement Fund also may be used to offset the remaining loss in state aid.
“I am analyzing and exploring all options,” Lane said. “There is a hiring freeze in place. Most vacancies will probably not be filled until July. We will keep the positions open, just not fill them. I am trying to avoid furloughs and layoffs.”
The Board of Education laid off four teachers this past year and used its entire non-lapsing surplus fund to prevent any additional staff cuts, leaving it $1.2 million behind at the start of the new fiscal year.
“It’s likely going to be another tough budget year,” BOE Chairman Joshua Shulman said. “We’re hoping to come up with a fair budget, continue strengthening our relationship with the Town Council and provide transparency to the public. We are working to keep our schools strong and moving forward.”
Among the top priorities is opening STEM Academies at the high school, providing biomedical and engineering classes. The district is looking to fund two teachers to staff the building’s newly renovated STEM wing.
Elected town and school officials agree they must build upon their collaboration in the year ahead.
“Hopefully the current fiscal situation will be the incentive to bring both sides to the table to talk,” the mayor said.
School Superintendent Bill Collins is expected to present his budget to the BOE on Jan. 24.
As in the past two years, department staff have been instructed to submit budgets that reflect a zero-percent increase over current spending.
“I have asked that department heads explore different methods to deliver their services -increase efficiencies, reduce redundancies, brainstorm with colleagues,” Lane said. “Just about anything that might generate a less expensive and more creative way of doing business.”
She does not plan on eliminating necessary town services such as snowplowing and trash removal. Other cuts in expenditures were already made over the last few years, leaving little to work with.
“We are looking for ways to generate more revenue, but with few viable options,” Lane continued. “And while town government is extremely reluctant to do so, raising taxes is an option. Although we are struggling to avoid this, realistically with the cuts in state funding, this may be unavoidable.”
The town is also preparing to begin a $28.8 million rebuild of Town Hall and the Mortensen Community Center. The project won over nearly three-quarters of voters in November and the next step is to secure building loans.
“Right now we are looking at a groundbreaking in late August or early September,” Zartarian said.
The architect is preparing a demolition plan for the existing structure and schematic drawings for the new building.
“It is difficult to know when the town will go out to bond,” Lane said. “We are currently awaiting a preliminary cash flow projection from our construction company, which will dictate the timeline for bonding.”
Despite some dark times, there is light on Newington’s horizon.
Economic development officials are enthusiastic about several new ventures that could make a dent in the grand list.
Priority one is the expanse of land at the corner of Fenn Road and Route 175, which abuts one of the town’s two CTfastrak stations. A developer with plans to build a hotel at the site is being held up by the state, which is hoping to secure a multi-use parking garage for busway riders on the same property.
Another project in purgatory is an assisted living community atop Cedar Mountain, off of Russell Road. The developer in this case is still trying to secure funding to begin construction.
The Town Council’s first meeting of the year is Tuesday.
Erica Schmitt can be reached at 860-801-5097, or email@example.com.