BERLIN — The budget now goes to residents after the Town Council agreed to send a reduced spending plan to referendum at the end of the month.
The council voted along party-lines on April 3 to trim the Board of Finance’s budget proposal by 2.5 percent before sending it to a referendum on April 30.
The council reduced municipal spending by $821,000 and school spending $400,000, bringing the total budget down to $90.1 million. The finance board in March cut a combined $2.9 million from the $94.2 million proposed by the town manager and board of education.
The $90.1 million proposed budget would represent a spending increase of $2.2 million, or 2.5 percent, over the current budget of $87.9 million. The corresponding mill rate increase of 1.36 mills would bring the rate to 33.86 mills, a $238 increase in taxes on a home assessed at $175,000.
Changes to the municipal budget include relying on a consultant for informational technology repairs instead of hiring an employee, saving $138,000; delaying repairs to the leaking municipal garage roof, a $120,000 project; and reducing by $100,000 funding for armed security guards in schools, now at $300,000.
"For once in a long time I'm almost speechless, almost,” said Democratic Councilor Peter Rosso. “I feel like Julius Caesar on the Ides of March and the unkindest cut of all is what we're doing to the gentleman in the back of the room, who has a leaky roof. An asset we can't even protect for $120,000.”
Caesar was stabbed to death in the Roman Senate on the Ides of March, which is March 15, in 44 B.C.
Fellow Democrat JoAnn Angelico-Stetson spoke against cutting $95,000 in repairs for the phone systems at three of schools, calling it a security issue. Republican Charles Paonessa responded that the budget is already adding security for the schools.
"We're adding $300,000 worth of security for the children, it was never there before,” he said, referring to the addition of armed officers.
Despite the reductions, councilors were not confident voters would accept the budget and anticipate deeper cuts after referendum.
“We all know this isn't going to pass at the budget referendum. It never has, it never will,” Rosso said. “People who are happy with it don't bother, the people who vote against it come out, so we're going to be back here.”
Republican Deputy Mayor Brenden Luddy said "they may surprise us, they may vote for the budget. It's still an increase over last year, there's still going to be a tax increase and if it comes back to us we'll have a chance to review it.”