3.2% Proposed Budget Reduction Discussed at Sherman Town Meeting
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The Board of Finance held a virtual meeting April 22 to discuss the potential impact COVID-19 treatment could have on the town and school district’s medical insurance claims.  the upcoming fiscal year, and the proposed purchase of the 78 Gillotti Road property.

Tom Kowalchik of USI spoke, saying he had run some projections through his company’s simulation program to estimate the potential cost impact through August 4. In the simulation, he said he went with a conservative assumption that 2.5% might get the virus. Using that premise, he said that the cost would be minimal–roughly $160,000. He said that he felt that the estimate was rather high. He said that Anthem will be tracking any COVID-19 claims and expenses and will be able to break them out when reporting costs.

He also addressed the issue of elective procedures that have been scheduled but are not taking place because of the pandemic. He said he would expect to see elective claims decrease in May, June and July. At some point once the shelter in place order is lifted, those will have to be rescheduled. The simulator estimated a cost of $179,000 in claims that would be ballooning once the pandemic is over.

Discussion then turned to the proposed budgets. Board Chair Wes Marsh began by posting a comparison of what a 2.94% overall budget increase and a 0% budget change looked like. According to Mr. Marsh, a 2.94% tax increase would mean that someone with a property value of $325,000 would wind up paying $203 more a year in taxes. This would translate to $16.92 a month. Someone with a property value of $425,000 would pay $265.00 more in taxes a year, or $22.08 more per month.

His point was that a 2.94% increase was “not as much as people might think”. He noted that the Board of Finance had already cut both town and education budgets a total of $822,000 to get to that increase. He said that to get to a flat tax (no increase) the budget would have to be cut another $1,453,000 divided between the town and education budgets. He stated that this is “a huge chunk” and that many of the additional cuts that would have to be made would be just “kicking the can down the road”, meaning that they would have to be reinserted into the following year’s budget (2021-22) at a time when bonding for the school projects would be ramping up an additional $20 million the Town issued $8 million in bonds earlier this month). The tax increase next year for costs associated with the bonding, he said, will be 2.5% before any other aspect of the budget are considered.

Board Members Cheryl Reedy and Brian Shea indicated that they felt there should be more cuts. Ms. Reedy was in favor of no increase in the budget. Mr. Shea indicated he would want to see what the Town’s unemployment numbers looked like, among other factors, but that he felt the Board should be open to looking at a number less than the 2.94%.

Other Board members indicated that while it might not be possible for the budget to remain flat from the previous fiscal year, they would like the BOE and BOS to explore further cuts to see what that might look like.

In the ensuing conversation, the Board was clear in that it wanted to make sure the public had a solid timeline so that they could publicly comment on the budget. Some members expressed disappointment that the Board had received relatively little comment from the public, although they acknowledged that there have been many distractions.

Board of Education Chair Peggy Katkocin spoke, saying that it would prolong recovery if expenses were pushed off to other years. She cautioned that a 0% budget was dangerous and “unrealistic, even in this time”.

Director of Budget & Operations Dr. Richard Sanzo then spoke about the early teacher retirement program that was offered to eligible employees earlier in the month. He noted that 7 teachers took the early retirement incentive. He said that in an average year, the district has an average of 4 regular retirements. He said the net savings from the early retirement program would be approximately $75,000. If, he said, there would be a need for additional budget cuts, it would mitigate the savings from those retirements as cuts would most likely have to come from the loss of additional lower-salaried teachers and staff.

In the end, the Board decided to ask the BOE and BOS to each find $375,000 in additional cuts to their budgets and submit those to the Board at its meeting on May 6. Budget markup would take place on May 13.

An overview of the BOE’s Recommended Budget can be found here.

 The BOS budget can be found here

Public input at meetings is encouraged to give New Fairfield’s Boards as much feedback as possible on the proposed budgets.

The Board of Finance will be holding budget meetings every Wednesday in April & May at 7:30pm at  https://us04web.zoom.us/j/237333101  the meeting call in number is 1-929-205-6099.

By Greg Slomba