When you receive your property tax bill or pay your personal property taxes each year, the town of New Fairfield’s annual budget process is probably not uppermost in your mind. Yet, the budget is the place to find out how your tax dollars are being spent.
Our town’s budget may seem complex or confusing at first glance and possibly put together so that only a finance expert could understand it. Behind the numbers there are many difficult decisions, trade-offs, and prioritizations to be made. This is because the town is called upon to do much more than before, and financial detail is necessary so those responsible for making budget decisions will have all the necessary information.
The town’s budget is actually comprised of two separate budgets: Municipal (Board of Selectmen) and Education (Board of Education). Both boards must first get their respective budgets approved by the Board of Finance before they can be voted on at the town’s annual budget referendum.
The Boards of Selectmen, Finance, and Education must stay in touch with community needs in order to provide appropriate and responsive municipal and education services. The budget process provides an important avenue for them to solicit taxpayer opinions as to where the town should be spending its money.
What is the budget? The budget is a plan. It is a financial proposal that annually directs the provision of municipal and education services and facilities. The money collected by the town from property taxes, investments, grants, fees, licenses, permits, and the state is called revenue. The money spent on salaries, materials, and equipment is called expenditures. Revenues and expenditures must be equal in the annual budget. That is what is meant by a balanced budget.
If however, there is a budget surplus (more money collected than spent) at the end of the fiscal year, 100% of the revenue surplus and up to 50% of the expenditure surplus shall be transferred to the unassigned fund balance (the town’s rainy day fund for emergencies). The remaining town and education expenditure surpluses will go for operational and or capital and nonrecurring expenditures for the Town, to be approved at a Town meeting, and for capital and nonrecurring expenditures for the BOE, to be approved by the Board of Finance.
Why do we budget? As a practical matter, we prepare a budget in order to manage the town’s finances and activities properly. In addition, the town provides services to meet our citizens’ and students’ needs that are paid for with taxpayer and state funds. Usually there is not enough forecasted revenue to provide for all the needs desired, so compromises must be made. The budget process provides a mechanism where elected officials, after hearing the diverse views of the taxpayers, can compromise and reach an agreement on spending priorities.
When is the timeline for the budget process? Our budget fiscal year begins on July 1st and ends on June 30th. Since the budget must be voted on and approved by the taxpayers before the first Wednesday in May, the process for the new budget begins much earlier, usually in November. That is when department heads begin formulating their budgets for submission to the town’s selectmen, school superintendent and Board of Education for approval. The Board of Finance’s public hearing and meetings on the budget occur in March and April. Once the Board of Finance approves the budget, it is sent to the voters.
How you can express your opinions
Yes, your opinions matter; please get involved. The most direct means of addressing elected officials is by attending the public meetings that are held beginning in January for the Board of Selectmen and Board of Education and March through April for the Board of Finance. Public notices will appear in the Town Tribune, postings on the town’s Web Site and Facebook page and postings in town hall with dates and times. All citizens who want to be heard will be heard during the public comment section on all meeting agendas. Your next opportunity to be heard will be at the Board of Finance’s annual public hearing on the budgets as requested by the Board of Selectmen and Board of Education which will be held this Saturday, March 3rd in the Community Room at the Senior Center starting at 9:00 a.m. for the education budget and 11:30 a.m. for the municipal budget. Please join us and let us hear from you directly!
Written comments, whether or not you personally attend a hearing, are always accepted. They can be emailed to the Board of Finance using the following address: BOF@newfairfield.org.
Written comments can also be mailed to town hall at 4 Brush Hill Road, New Fairfield to the attention of the Board of Finance
Your opinion matters and your involvement can help the budget. The Boards of Finance, Selectmen, and Education welcome and encourage public participation at all of their meetings.
– Your property tax pays for approximately 91% of the town and education budgets
– The mill rate that the Board of Finance sets annually based on the budget you vote to approve determines the amount of your property taxes
– The mill rate % increase is the same % increase to your property taxes – tax increase