At the conclusion of a raucous meeting on May 14, the Board of Finance passed a budget which increased the school system’s allocation and reduced municipal spending, resulting in a 2.8 increase in spending overall.
The finance board changes made to the Town Council’s previous budget proposal, which failed at referendum on April 30, adds $500,000 to the education budget and trims $179,000 from the town side.
These moves are in line with what voters called for at referendum and bring the municipal budget to $45.4 million and the Board of Education budget to just shy of $45 million.
A mill rate increase of 1.52 mills – up to 34 mills – would be needed to cover the expenses based on the current expectations of revenue from the state, which would raise taxes by $266 on a home assessed at $175,000.
The revisions went to the Town Council, which was scheduled to meet Wednesday. The council can accept, reduce or reject the budget. The referendum on that budget will be held Tuesday, May 28.
While he acknowledged that neither the finance board nor the Town Council can dictate what the Board of Education spends its budget on, Board of Finance Chairperson Sam Lomaglio said he hopes that the BOE would use the added $500,000 to maintain interscholastic sports at McGee Middle School and fund the Effective School Solutions program outright.
“We decided that with the $500,000 that they could add the ESS in and do the McGee sports,” he said. “That’s what we’re hoping.”
At a May 9 public hearing held by the finance board, students and parents shared stories about how ESS had impacted them, including some saying it had prevented suicide.
Board members pointed out that the program is expected to be funded for the next academic year through money saved up this year.
"They're scaring ESS kids … [Y]ou've got families and students standing up there crying and that's the way the Board of Education wants to stand in front of the public?" Board of Finance member Salvatore Bordonaro said at the May 14 meeting.
The finance board also looked at reducing the amount of funding for school resource officers. This boiled over into an argument in which Mayor Mark Kaczynski called board member Mark Holmes an idiot.
When it comes to school resource officers, finance board Vice Chairperson Gerald Paradis and Lomaglio agreed that the board should defer to the work Kaczynski has done in conjunction with the Board of Education and town staff over the past year.
The board’s reductions to the town side of the budget cuts the line item for the town manager’s salary by $100,000, leaving $40,000 for a stipend for an interim manager following the resignation of current town manager Jack Healy.
The board also eliminated funding for consultants to look at the town’s computer network and the Visiting Nurses Association.
It also removed a $134,000 expense from the budget to cover a proposal in which municipalities would be required to cover some of the cost of teacher state pension plans.
This would be offset by an expected increase in the education cost sharing grant the town would receive under a plan passed by the General Assembly’s Appropriations Committee.
Since both are not yet concrete, the finance board felt it would be more prudent to leave them out of the budget.
A $120,000 increase was made to the town’s capital spending for the replacement of phones in the elementary schools and the replacement of a floor at the Senior Center.
The board called these public safety issues.
Lomaglio said the town needs to increase capital funding to prevent projects from piling up or being bonded, adding to a debt load which already exceeds the town’s annual spending.
"It just bothers me that we're giving debt to the new generations of this town,” he said. "We bond everything because we've got to keep that mill rate low. God forbid if we can't get re-elected. And I don't care, it goes to both parties. Gotta keep that mill rate low and then all the sudden we've got $100 million in bonds.”