MERIDEN — The City Council voted 11 to 1 Monday night to adopt a $198.2 million 2020-21 budget that will keep the tax rate flat at 40.86 mills.
The new budget represents a $966,000, or .48 percent, increase in overall spending. The city did not have to raise the tax rate, though, thanks to a 1.3 percent increase in this year’s taxable grand list, according to City Manager Tim Coon.
The budget passed Monday largely resembles the one approved by the council’s Finance Committee last month with a few amendments, most notably a reduction to the Board of Education’s funding increase from $649,000 to $249,000.
In reducing the board’s budget, the council agreed to allow the district to carry over $400,000 school officials say they will save in transportation and athletics costs as a result of school closures.
The $249,000 increase to the school board represents a .24 increase and brings the board’s total allotment from the city to $100.8 million.
The education adjustment, along with two other minor amendments passed Monday cutting $25,000 in spending, means the city no longer needs to take $425,000 out of its rainy day fund balance to achieve a zero tax increase.
Prior to passing the budget, members of the council’s minority caucus made a push to flat fund the Board of Education and instead distribute the $249,000 to police and fire overtime. Republicans Dan Brunet and Michael Carabetta and We the People Councilor Bob Williams argued the school board did not need a funding increase from the city because the district recently learned it will receive $2.3 million in funding as part of the federal CARES Act.
“Rather than unnecessarily pushing money to the Board of Ed, we’re putting it to first responders, who right now will probably be working overtime,” Brunet said.
There is some uncertainty about how the CARES money can be used, with some councilors saying it is solely for pandemic costs and others asserting it can be used more liberally.
Those against the education cut said the council has an obligation to invest in the school system, which ranks 167th out of 169 Connecticut districts in per-pupil spending.
“If we don’t (pass) this money, it could push us to 169th … that’s not a place I want to see Meriden,” Democrat Michael Rohde said.
The motion to flat fund the school district failed 9 to 3, with Williams, Brunet, and Carabetta voting in favor. Brunet and Carabetta later voted to adopt the overall budget. Williams was the lone nay vote.