On the morning of Saturday, April 25, a couple dozen town officials and residents joined in a virtual meeting to discuss Sherman’s proposed budget. The Sherman Board of Selectmen is planning to vote on the budget, currently a 3.2% reduction over the previous year, on May 9. The budget will be voted on by the three BOS members, as per Governor Lamont’s Executive Order exempting the need for referendums. Town officials welcomed taxpayer input at this meeting, and will continue to do so by email in the lead up to the vote.
First Selectman, Don Lowe, detailed budget highlights, including a significant decrease in debt service and a shift in mill rate from 19.81 to 19.18, and said of the proposed budget, “I think it’s appropriate in this Covid climate and for many other reasons we are happy to present a budget like that.”
Reporting on revenue, the town’s Treasurer Eric Holub explained that “this is a balanced budget, the revenues and expenses are offset.” He also explained that the budget surplus will be “a projected healthy 22%” which will help the town continue to function in the future, if needed, in these uncertain times.
The BOS took questions from concerned residents, nearly all of which involved the Board of Education’s budget. Described as “a flat budget,” BOE Chair Kasey Diotte said “The board believes that this budget meets the responsibilities and is happy to present this budget.”
The most controversial item in the BOE budget is the proposed waive of preschool tuition, an approximate revenue of $35 to $40K. Originally conceived as a way to attract new families to the town in discussions regarding future school renovations, taxpayers questioned whether this is the year to implement the revenue reduction, given the pandemic. Sherman resident, John Dwyer, predicted that the “impact to our town and our society is going to be even worse than the impact we are seeing today” and stated that “I think it might be smart for us to not add a new item to the budget without having the townspeople vote on it.” He suggested that they delay the tuition waiver by a year, or until taxpayers can vote on the measure.
Deirdre Fitzpatrick, another Sherman resident, one of several people who agreed about delaying the waiving of preschool tuition, asked what consideration was being had regarding next year’s academic needs given the possibility of continued distance learning. “We are going to be using technology more, so we should look at cutting in other areas” she said. All agreed that the future is uncertain, but she was assured that administrators and the BOE have begun discussing contingency plans for the fall.
Referencing a budget packet that was mailed to Sherman taxpayers the previous week, resident Patricia Bailey asked for the enrolled numbers of students and asked that those figures be added to future mailings. Superintendent Jeff Melendez agreed, saying that there are 259 preschool through 8th grade students and 134 high-school-aged students. All agreed that those numbers may be in flux due to the pandemic, given the possibility of people moving to the town to flee more populated areas or, in converse, not sending their children to preschool or kindergarten.
There were a number of questions asking for clarification on budget line items, such as the school’s elective programs, a creativity program, and more.
Several residents thanked the town leaders for their steady leadership throughout the crisis, with resident William Jones saying, “it’s a great comfort.” Lowe responded by reminding the public, “If anyone needs anything, needs any help, just let me know. We all have to work together through this and we will get through this.”
BOS member Bob Ostrosky was pragmatic about the future, saying “We don’t know what will happen. We will probably blow some categories in the budget and be under in other areas.”
By Sarah Opdahl