NEWINGTON â€“ Mayor Beth DelBuono presented the Town Councilâ€™s tentative $129.9 million budget for 2021-22 this week, representing a slight reduction to the mill rate.
â€śOur town manager and town staff went above and beyond to make sure they delivered to us a fiscally-responsible budget,â€ť DelBuono said. â€śI cannot say thank you enough to them for the work they did.â€ť
Since she took over leadership in Nov. 2019, the townâ€™s tax rate decreased from 39.45 to 39.28 in early 2020 and will tentatively drop again to 39.10 if the council approves the budget as it currently stands. That two-year timeline also marks the rise to power of Newington Republicans, who won back the council majority with DelBuono at the helm in 2019. The party stuck to its pledge to keep tax increases at 0% and DelBuono took the opportunity to emphasize this during her budget presentation Tuesday night.
Itâ€™s another municipal election year, and both parties are expected to begin announcing their front-runners for mayor, council and Board of Education within the next few months.
â€śOur approach of minimizing coasts while enhancing service delivery is being achieved with the philosophy of need takes priority over want,â€ť DelBuono said.
Several new development projects are now in the works with Town Manager Keith Chapman and his staff making a concerted effort to increase the townâ€™s grand list over the last two years. This includes an $11 million hotel deal being finalized at the former National Welding site on Cedar Street.
â€śWe need to look at increasing our economic development and decreasing our expenditures if we want to continue to lower that mill rate,â€ť DelBuono said. â€śWeâ€™re hoping the year 2021 and beyond are an exceptional time where we can hope for some mill rate reduction and increased employment opportunities.â€ť
The councilâ€™s proposed budget features a 2.98% reduction to town government operations and a 0% increase to the Board of Education. Perhaps the most significant change is the Capital Improvements Fund, set to increase by 177.3%.
â€śThat is a whopping increase but we have to address those needs and weâ€™re able to manage that without any mill rate increase so that is a win-win for us as a town,â€ť DelBuono said.
Chapman reevaluated the townâ€™s CIP program over the last six months, after a town-wide facilities assessment revealed Newington has at least $20 million in repairs and upgrades to prioritize in town-owned buildings and schools. To begin addressing this Chapman recommended the town utilize $2.5 million from its general fund balance, which is included in the councilâ€™s tentative budget. He also found savings in the consolidation of staff and services.
The only speaker during Tuesdayâ€™s public hearing was Susan Mazzoccoli, whose late husband Dominic Mazzoccoli served as Newingtonâ€™s mayor and state representative for many years.
â€śMy concern is economic development,â€ť she told the council, asking them to prioritize redeveloping vacant properties like the former Best Market downtown. â€śBringing some life back into that empty building would be a benefit to all our restaurants and our town,â€ť she added. â€śThatâ€™s something I hope you can focus on after youâ€™re all done with the budget.â€ť
Changes will be made to the tentative budget during the councilâ€™s regular meeting April 13. A special meeting is set for April 20 to adopt the final spending plan and set the mill rate.
Erica Drzewiecki can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.