At the May 17 Board of Finance meeting, the Board voted to set the mil rate for fiscal tax year 2017-2018 at 29.82 mils. This equates to a tax increase of 3.97% to fund the municipal and school budgets which were approved by a town vote on May 13.
First Selectman Susan Chapman addressed the Board. She announced that the Town’s AAA bond rating has been renewed. She thanked everyone in the Town’s Finance department for working so hard to maintain the rating, indicating that the department has refinanced existing bonds that will realize a net savings of $437,000 over the next three years.
Ms. Chapman also spoke about the Governor’s updated budget proposal. Unfortunately, the new budget calls for an additional cut in State aid to the Town of approximately $2 million. That would bring the total potential reduction in State aid to approximately $6.7 million if the proposed State budget is approved by legislators. The worst case scenario if the Governor’s proposed budget were to be approved in full would be a 9.35% increase over the recently approved Town municipal and school budgets.
Board member John Hodge noted that well over $4 million in cuts appeared to be a redistribution from New Fairfield to towns and cities deemed more needy by the Governor. He stated that this only increases the inequality in education funding which is already skewed in favor of the larger cities, something that is “very unfortunate and very unfair”.
Finance Director Ed Spordone gave a rundown of how the proposed budget affects surrounding towns. Bethel would lose $6.8 million, Brookfield $3.8 million, New Milford $12.1 million and Newtown $10.5 million. Danbury would gain $6 million in funding.
The state budget is supposed to be passed by June 7. Ms. Chapman, who has been attending sessions and meetings in Hartford, did not think it was likely to be approved by then. She also noted that the Governor’s budget assumes a $700 million concession from union contracts this year, which she feels is unlikely.
Board Chair Wes Marsh said, “So we’re looking at a potential supplementary tax bill.”
Mr. Hodge was reluctant to go that far and suggested having a special meeting to discuss options saying, “I think we need a better plan at this point. We thought we were there based upon the information that was given to us, but we’re clearly not there.”
It was decided to wait until the next regular meeting on June 21 to discuss the budget further in the hopes that state legislators will have either finalized a State budget before then.
The Board also discussed the budget vote and the advisory questions. Members of the Board expressed disappointment with the light voter turnout, less than 10% of the registered voters in town—887 voters and seven property owners—cast their ballot. For the Board of Education budget, 323 voters said the budget was too high, while 505 indicated it was too low. 65 did not answer the question. For the municipal budget, 424 said it was too high, 334 said it was too low, and 133 did not answer.
According to state statute, the ballots must remained sealed for 14 days after the vote, so there was no way to correlate how those voting no or yes on the budgets answered the advisory questions. This will be done after the waiting period and will provide more insight.
Mr. Spordone presented new Town Finance Department policies and procedures for Board approval. This was in response to recommendation from the Town’s external auditors after an audit earlier this year. The Board approved the new procedures. They will now go to the Board of Selectmen for final approval.
By Greg Slomba