Late last month, Democratic City Councilor Bruce Fontanella proposed a resolution that would have “advised” Meriden City Manager Tim Coon to submit a “zero-increase” budget for the 2019-20 fiscal year. The measure would not have been binding, but various objections were raised and only one other councilor, Republican Dan Brunet, supported it, so it was tabled. That way, it could die quietly, without anyone having to vote “against” a zero-increase budget.
"Basically, this is just us asking you to do your job," Democrat Cathy Battista said to Coon about the resolution. True enough.
But this will be a quirky year for budgeting because of two things that happened in two successive years. First, the General Assembly took an extra — and outrageous — five months to pass a state budget in 2017, forcing Connecticut’s towns and cities to craft their own budgets with no idea how much state aid they’d be getting. The city finished that fiscal year with a $2 million deficit, which was covered by the “rainy day” fund.
Then, last December, city officials discovered a clerical error that led to an underassessment of Eversource Energy's personal property (equipment), which shortchanged the city’s coffers by $3.4 million. The city ended last fiscal year with a small surplus. Eversource has since paid that bill in full, money that has not yet been allocated.
Coon has already said he intends to keep the budget as low as possible while also providing the services Meriden needs. It will be his job to sharpen his pencil and differentiate the wants from the needs.
No doubt there are departments, including the Board of Education, who would love to get some of that $3.4 million. But this is a town whose taxpayers came out in the middle of last summer and voted overwhelmingly to reject the City Council’s budget, so there is clearly strong support — with or without Fontanella’s resolution — for keeping the budget low and the tax rate down.
If the councilors don’t want to see a repeat of last year’s taxpayer revolt, they would do well to keep last summer’s referendum in mind and not use the Eversource money for any new spending.
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