Voters passed the proposed 2021-2022 fiscal year municipal and education budgets at a vote held June 5 at Meeting House Hill School. Turnout was low, with just 1,001 votes cast–978 in person and 23 write in. Residents voted in favor of the municipal budget 578 to 422, and the education budget 542 to 458.
The budgets were recommended by the Board of Finance after a lengthy review process that included public input and discussions with both the Board of Education and Board of Selectmen. The BoF tasked the BoE and BoS several times each to review their budgets and make adjustments. The final budget amounts as approved by voters are:
Municipal Operations $11,523,034
Education Operations $36,293,369
Debt Service $ 3,841,896
Municipal Capital Spending $ 770,213
Education Capital Spending $ 93,389
Municipal Medical Insurance $ 826,055
Education Medical Insurance $ 5,223,945
The total budgets represent an increase of 2.98% over the previous year’s budget. Of that increase, 2.81% is due to the debt service cost of the two school building projects that were approved by voters in 2019. This means that the education and municipal budgets themselves are essentially flat from the previous fiscal year.
When asked to comment on the vote, First Selectman Pat Del Monaco expressed her relief that the budgets had passed saying, “Both the BOS and BOE budgets had already been cut significantly to achieve the minimal (0.17%) increase over the 2.81% in debt service for the new schools.”
She also noted that, “If additional budget reductions had been required, cuts would have been made to services that residents rely on such as road maintenance and repair and emergency services.”
Throughout the months-long budget process, all three boards worked to find ways to keep the budgets as low as possible. The initial budgets proposed at the March 6 public budget hearing represented an almost 6% increase over the previous year. From there, the Board of Finance worked with the Boards of Selectmen and Education over the ensuing 3 months to whittle the increase to the final 2.98% increase approved by voters.
Ms. Del Monaco also expressed her disappointment with the roughly 10% turnout of eligible voters. However, she also noted that this type of turnout is not uncommon in town when it comes to the annual budget vote. In fact, turnout totals were low in 2014 (997), 2015 (1096), 2016 (1076), and 2017 (894). Votes held in 2018 (1404) and 2019 (1355) had slightly better turnout. This year,low voter turnout has been a trend in other towns as well. Examples of other local towns that experienced low percentage of voter turnout for their budget votes in 2021 include Bethel (11.7%), Newtown (9%), Ridgefield (6.8%), and Sherman (12%).
By Greg Slomba