BERLIN — Voters in Tuesday’s budget referendum approved a $2.5 million increase in spending for the coming fiscal year, though taxes will remain at current levels.
The municipal budget received the most support, with 301 voters favoring the $1 million spending increase, while 95 were opposed. Ballots for the $1.5 million increase in school spending came in with 268 approving and 120 voting against. The overall 2020-21 fiscal budget approved by voters is $93,959,047, a 2.7 percent increase over last year.
Town Finance Director Kevin Delaney said there was a focus on avoiding a tax increase this year to help residents and businesses still dealing with the economic effects of the pandemic. Town Manager Arosha Jayawickrema told staff working on the budget to only request what is necessary, Delaney said.
“We tried really hard to keep it barebones, knowing COVID, knowing that some individuals are struggling, the businesses are struggling and some businesses didn’t make it through the shutdown,” Delaney said.
Board of Finance Chairperson Sam Lomaglio agreed the goal was to keep the mill rate flat.
“It was important for us to go with a zero mill increase this year, because … the small business, people were struggling with the pandemic,” he said.
The finance board reduced the budget passed by the Board of Education by around $650,000 and cut most municipal capital spending requests, leaving just $60,000 budgeted for replacing computer hardware in police cruisers and upgrades to town facilities to provide safety for those with disabilities.
Leftover funds from the Berlin High School renovation project and $700,000 in federal pandemic aid is also used in next year’s operating budget.
Though he was glad to see the mill rate was kept stable for a second consecutive year, Lomaglio cautioned much of the revenue that made it possible — including the leftover high school funds and the pandemic aid — come from one time sources. If additional revenues aren’t found, it will be difficult to avoid a tax increase in the next budget, he said.
The Town Council unanimously passed the budget that came before voters.
Though the budget maintains the town’s existing services, Delaney said it leaves little room for new programs or the repairs and upgrades that are part of the town’s capital plan.
“It's not possible to stay at zero and do a lot of new things,” he said.
Before casting her ballot on Tuesday, Elaine Andrews said the spending levels in the budget are fair, especially since the mill rate isn’t increasing, which likely kept turnout low.
According to election result, about 2.6 percent of registered voters participated in the referendum.