Wallingford mayor balks at funding teachers’ pension proposal in town budget

Wallingford mayor balks at funding teachers’ pension proposal in town budget

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WALLINGFORD — Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. left a potential state-mandated payment to the teachers’ pension fund out of his budget proposal. 

Dickinson didn’t include the contribution to the Teachers' Retirement Fund, traditionally funded by the state, in his $169 million budget released Monday. On Tuesday, he said he left it out because the legislature has not voted on a state budget.

“We had nothing to do with negotiating teacher pensions at any time and for it to be included, for us to make payments, is just unacceptable,” Dickinson said. “We object.”

Dickinson’s budget summary said the town’s contribution to the pension fund would be $395,021. Increases in town contributions in future years could be $815,756 in 2020-21 and $1,236,491 in 2021-22.

If Gov. Ned Lamont’s proposal becomes law, Dickinson said he’ll have to see what the “legislative language” requires towns to do.

“Maybe (the town payment) would come from some other grant the town would receive,” he said. “It’s all an unknown.”

Earlier this year, Lamont proposed each municipality or regional school board share future costs of the teachers’ pension fund, which currently has an unfunded liability of more than $13 billion.

Town Council Chairman Vincent Cervoni said Tuesday that “there’s some calculation to the risk.”

“Strategically, he’s hoping the legislature defeats that (mandate),” Cervoni said. “I have to believe there are towns that are getting bigger hits, and I have to believe that the leaders of those towns will be lobbying their legislators to take that out of the budget.”

Dickinson also recommended appropriating $6 million from town reserves to balance the budget, according to the budget summary. The total budget proposal, except education and utilities, is $65,715,216, an increase of $2,620,525 or 4.2 percent over the original 2018-19 budget.

The town’s credit rating was reduced recently from Aaa to Aa1 due, in part, to reliance upon financial reserves to pay for expenses and loss of state grant revenue.

Town government departments requested $67.8 million in expenditures, but Dickinson reduced that by $2.1 million.

“It’s noteworthy that the proposal is down $200,00 in reserves to what it was last year,” Cervoni said. “There’s a deliberate effort to reduce dependence on allocating from reserves.”

The budget would raise the mill rate by .55 mills, from 28.64 mills to 29.19 mills, an increase of 1.9 percent. That would mean an increase of $101 in taxes for the average residential property owner.

“I was concerned that the property tax increase was going to be higher, and I was pleased to see it’s not higher than what it is,” Cervoni said.

Major spending increases include the debt service, town employee pension contribution and health insurance costs.

“We make an effort every year to reduce our dependence on reserves,” Dickinson said. “Given all the other factors in the budget, it’s important to not still be utilizing reserves."

From the Connecticut Resources Recovery Authority Distribution Fund, Dickinson recommended using $800,000 for a new fire truck, $200,000 for a new snow plow truck and $50,000 for a Wallingford Government TV camera replacement project.

When CRRA dissolved, the town was owed money, Dickinson said, so the town established a fund to use on capital projects.

He also recommended funding two additional police officer positions at $212,000.

Cervoni said he believes the public’s concern about car break-ins was a factor in funding the new positions.

A public hearing on the budget is scheduled for 6 p.m. Monday at Town Hall council chambers. 

The Town Council’s hearing on the budget is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. April 25 at Town Hall council chambers.

Twitter: @LCTakores

First look at Wallingford's budget

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