BERLIN — The Board of Education is evaluating a budget proposal that calls for a nearly $2.9 million increase in school spending, while the Board of Finance and Town Council weigh an $8.5 million capital plan.
During his presentation, Superintendent of Schools Brian Benigni said rising salaries and benefits make up most of the increase.
“Of that 6.47 percent (increase), just to meet contractual obligations we're looking at 2.3 percent increase," he said.
Board of Education President Richard Aroian said he hopes residents can look past the “sticker shock” and consider some of driving factors, including around $640,000 in repairs and technology moved to the board’s operating budget.
The district’s budget for contracted services would also increase nearly $500,000, or 28 percent, for the Effective School Solutions program, which provides mental health specialists for students chronically absent.
A handful of positions that were cut in previous budgets would also be reinstated under Benigni’s proposal – three teaching positions, seven paraprofessionals and a technology integration specialist.
Town weighing ramp up in capital funding
The town’s elected officials will also likely be faced with evaluating a substantially larger capital spending request than has been passed in recent years.
Finance Director Kevin Delaney presented the Town Council with a nearly $8.2 million capital plan that was passed by the town’s Capital Committee. The plan will be revised by Town Manager Arosha Jayawickrema before it goes before the Board of Finance and council. The capital committee is primarily made up of municipal department heads.
Around $2.2 million of the plan would be paid for through the town’s general fund, with the committee having trimmed out $7 million in department requests by finding alternative funding sources or pushing projects out into the future. The remaining $6 million would be paid for through a mix of surplus funds, bonding and grants.
Over half of the funding under the proposal would come from approximately $4.7 million of town bonding, which would be used for a $2.5 million overhaul of the heating and air conditioning system at Willard Elementary School. A total of $1.4 million will be used to replace Spruce Brook Bridge and $800,000 will go to purchase a new engine for the South Kensington Fire Department.
Under the plan, around $600,000 of surplus funds from the past fiscal year would be used for upgrades to the softball field at Sage Park.
Board of Finance Chairperson Sam Lomaglio feels the capital plan is underfunded and doesn’t meet all of the town’s needs. He accused the Republican majority on the Town Council of shortchanging the 10-year capital plan that was created by town staff.
“We’re so behind on the 10-year plan that these are things that have come up … these are things that needed to be done three or four years ago,” he said.
Mayor Mark Kaczynski, a Republican, said the town’s heavy debt load makes it difficult to find the funding to address the backlog of projects. All are worthwhile and have to get done, he said, it’s just a matter of making sure the town can pay for them