BERLIN — The Board of Finance is holding a public hearing tonight to hear input from voters before a meeting Tuesday to revise the budgets rejected by referendum.
Residents narrowly called for the eduction budget to be increased during the April 30 referendum, with 1,146 voters calling the school budget too low on an advisory question compared to 1,133 responding it was too high.
Only 254 voted in favor of the Board of Education budget as proposed. Residents also rejected the general government budget, with 1,335 voters saying the proposed spending plan was too high and 806 calling it too low.
The public hearing will be held at 7 p.m. in the Berlin High School media center, while the finance board will be making its vote on Tuesday at 7 p.m. at the Town Hall. By charter, the Town Council has five days to respond to the board’s recommendation, excluding weekends.
Finance board Chairperson Sam Lomaglio said he intends to push the board to increase both budgets, despite voters wanting the townside reduced.
He said cutting the municipal budget more would be destructive when he sees funding for repairs and maintenance already being shortchanged. He would like to see around $800,000 in capital spending recommended by Town Manager Jack Healy reinstated.
Maintaing capital funding as proposed or reducing it further would leave the town in danger of having to dip into its surplus if equipment breaks mid-year, Lomaglio said.
“That money is there for emergency purposes, that money is not there for capital purposes,” he said. “You can’t run a town by going through your bank account constantly.”
While the town’s charter does require the advisory questions, it does not require that the finance board or Town Council abide by the results, though only the finance board has the authority to increase the budget regardless of the results.
“We’re going to do our job and our job is to make sure the town is funded,” he said. “We are definitely going to restore some cuts.”
Mayor Mark Kaczynski said voters gave a clear message that they want the townside budget reduced, and while he feels it’s already been cut nearly as much as the council can he intends to find more savings.
“We will try to execute the will of the people,” he said. “I'm not sure we can reduce much more on the town side, but we will certain look to make some more reductions.”
On the Board of Education side of the budget, Kaczynski said he feels the tight margin by which residents responded that the budget was too low, just 13 votes, means that any increase given to the school system should be modest. A more sizable increase could be possible should the Board of Finance consider a proposal wherein the town would use some fund balance to pay for Board of Education costs without having to raise the mill rate.
The finance board had previously rejected that option, with Lomaglio saying the fund balance is needed to counterbalance a growing liability stemming from expected pension payouts and the possibility of an economic downturn.
Lomaglio said it’s possible the finance board may go beyond reversing the $400,000 reduction made by the Town Council and shrink its own $1.3 million cut to school funding.
“We always thought the cuts on the Board of Education were too deep,” he said.
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