BERLIN – Acting Town Manager Jack Healy is proposing a $93.9 million budget for the 2018-2019 fiscal year, a 10.2 percent total increase over the current year.
The increase is a 12.7 percent mill rate spike, used to calculate tax bills.
“Despite our best efforts to offset the drivers of this increase, it will not be possible to avoid a mill rate increase and meet operational requirements and capital needs,” Healy said in a letter to the Board of Finance. “The budget being presented addresses legal and contractual obligations, necessary capital expenditures and maintains current service levels,”
This is the first year the Town Manager proposed budget will be discussed with the new Board of Finance before going to the Town Council. The council can then agree to the budget put forth by the finance board, or reduce it.
The town portion of the budget is proposed as a 16.2 percent increase with a 4.3 percent increase for the school board.
Healy said though the new town charter calls for separate town and school budget votes, there are aspects of the town budget that impact the schools including electricity, liability insurance, building support and grounds support.
Both school and town budgets are larger increases than previous budget proposals in the last several years. Last year both budgets saw minimal increases and minimal capital funding.
“This budget was developed with the intent to fund critically strategic goals,” Healy said.
This year’s proposal includes over $4 million in capital projects along with a 10-year plan of projects to fund in the future.
The projects to be funded in the upcoming budget include public safety with new police vehicles, infrastructure with bridge repairs and school modifications, technology replacements and annual contributions to long-term town initiatives including business continuity.
The proposed budget also includes a recommendation to fully fund the Annual Determined Contribution for the pension plan by $800,000 from the unassigned general fund balance. The closed pension plan, which still has several participating employees, has historically been under-funded with only two percent funded last year of projected liability.
Finance Director Kevin Delaney said three to five retirements are expected in fiscal year 2019 with lump sum payments ranging from $1.4 million to 3 million. A $300,000 payment will be paid out this fiscal year.
“The document we have this year is a step forward,” Delaney said. “The objective is to create a sustainable community.”
The school budget, a 4.3 percent increase, is following a similar objective with increases in utilities, transportation and contracted services, including the Effective School Solutions high school program, and other items such as certified salaries and employee benefits ranging from 3.25 percent to 15.11 percent.
Brian Benigni, Superintendent of Berlin Schools, said the school budget has seen a five-year average increase of 1.94 percent which has impacted budgets moving forward.
“If we were able to receive an additional half a percent over the last five years we wouldn’t be sitting at a 4.3 (percent), we’d be sitting around a 2.3 (percent),” he said.
Due to state aid uncertainty and a current fiscal year cut of $400,000 mid-year, over $800,000 in new requests were not added to the proposed budget. Over $1 million in reductions for the 2018-2019 fiscal year include elementary school assistant principal, team leaders, paraprofessionals, certified staff, middle school department heads, supplies, non-certified staff and other areas at all five schools and central office.
“I think it’s important to remember that the Board of Education is people driven,” said John Richards, member of the finance board.
Benigni said current staff is important to maintain in order to best service students and remain competitive with advanced placement classes.
He recently requested an increase of more than 60 Open Choice seats for next year in order to maintain program funds at 3 percent. The district receives $6,000 for each Hartford student who chooses to attend Berlin schools.
“We’re counting on those funds,” Benigni said.
The Board of Finance will continue to discuss the budget during a meeting Thursday, March 8, at 7 p.m.
The annual budget hearing will be March 27.