MERIDEN — The City Council is slated to vote on the proposed 2018-19 budget Monday night and officials anticipate it will be a lengthy meeting with many amendments offered.
Meanwhile, a resident plans to petition for a budget referendum if further cuts are not made by council Monday.
With the latest estimates on state and federal funds, the council is looking at a roughly $197.3 million spending plan. Although it includes $901,000 in additional Education Cost Sharing funds for the Board of Education, it still leaves the school system about $1.66 million short to maintain staff and programs, according to Superintendent of Schools Mark Benigni.
The school board voted to cut 26 positions earlier this year and some have urged the council to increase the board’s budget to avoid further staff and program cuts.
“Without additional revenue coming from the city or a reduction in health expenses, we’re still going to have a gap that will require us to further reduce our program and that’s the last thing we want to do right now,” Benigni said.
With the additional $901,000 in state money and more state and federal funds expected to help with the influx of students from Puerto Rico, City Council Finance Committee Chairman Brian Daniels said the Board of Education is ”going to be in very good shape.”
Republican Dan Brunet, who leads the council’s minority caucus, does not anticipate much will change in the budget Monday. Still, he is planning on offering a dozen amendments to decrease the budget by $750,000.
“It doesn’t look too promising for the taxpayer,” Brunet said. “Four percent spending increase, along with a 5.6 percent tax increase is unacceptable. Historically, in Meriden, this is the highest tax increase that anybody can remember especially in a non revaluation year.”
Resident Michael Carabetta called the proposed spending plan an “affront” to taxpayers and plans to petition to bring the budget to referendum if it passes without significant cuts in spending.
“I just don’t think it’s fair,” Carabetta said. “(The Council) haven’t proven they will make any cuts for the people of the city… Unless there is a change in the budget that they present Monday night I’m still prepared to move forward with the petition and make sure we at least get our voices heard.”
Per the City Charter, 3,000 signatures are needed to bring the budget to a referendum. A referendum could cost the city up to $30,000 to coordinate, said Acting City Manager Ken Morgan.
“They want to get it on a referendum because they want to have a chance to be part of the process and I understand that, but they have to look at the bigger picture,” Morgan said. “In the long run I think it’s going to create a lot more problems than it will fix and I’m not sure it will change the budget much.”
Those interested in Carabetta’s petition should join the Facebook group, “Meriden 2018 People Against Budget Increase.”
“I’ll be the first one to sign it if the budget goes through,” Brunet said.