CHESHIRE — Town Manager Michael Milone proposed a $111.8-million budget this week, an increase of nearly 3 percent over the current fiscal year.
Spending on general government would rise by $1.2 million, education would increase by $2 million, and payments on debt would decrease by $17,000. The proposed mill rate is 33.29, an increase of 1.25 mills. Each mill is equivalent to $1 of taxes levied on each $1,000 of assessed property value.
Rob Oris, Town Council chairman and a Republican, said the town is going to have to do “more with less” during the upcoming fiscal year. He expected the council, which approves a final budget, would lower the spending increases proposed by Milone.
“We’re clearly looking to tighten our belt,” Oris said. “We’re going to be looking at everything really hard.”
Milone said creating a budget for the upcoming fiscal year was complicated by the loss of nearly $1.5 million in state aid.
“Our objective at the start of this budget was to continue to provide cost effective, quality programs and services with only a marginal increase in the tax burden,” Milone wrote in his budget summary. “This proposed budget succeeds in maintaining those quality programs, and with the exception of Police staffing and fringe benefits accounts, it is a maintenance budget.”
Milone said his spending requests for general government and education were only .34 and .36 percent more respectively than under the budget adopted for fiscal year 2017.
Tim Slocum, budget committee chairman and a Republican councilor, said he was pleased Milone is calling for a lower mill rate increase than last year’s town manager budget proposal. He didn’t dismiss the tax hikes suggested for the upcoming year, however.
“It’s not chump change,” he said. “Those are big increases.”
Slocum expected the council to modify Milone’s budget before approving a spending plan.
While he was generally looking to lower spending, Oris said he did support funding to hire another police officer to bring the department to a full complement of 49 officers. During a community meeting on school safety, parents suggested more police officers in the schools.
The additional police officer would be assigned mostly to the middle school as a school resource officer, but would also spend time at the elementary schools. The school resource officer assigned to Cheshire High School has similar duties.
“I think it’s a great deterrent.,” Oris said. “I think it’s great to have them in the schools. The interaction the kids have with that individual, it pays significant dividends.”
Oris feared raising the mill rate too high could drive businesses from Cheshire, leading to more tax pressure on homeowners.
“Businesses and grand list growth eventually becomes stifled,” he said. “Not that we’re there — I think we have a very competitive mill rate, but we have to make sure it stays that way.”