MERIDEN — City Manager Tim Coon’s 2020-21 budget proposal would raise both spending and taxes by 2.4 percent.
Coon released his plan to the City Council Friday, marking the beginning of a months-long process in which councilors will meet with department heads, hear public testimony and amend the proposal before adopting a final budget in May.
Here’s five things to know about the plan.
1. Public safety and
Police, fire, and the Board of Education were given the biggest increases over the current year — each receiving more than a $500,000 bump.
“Safety and education of a community’s citizens is of primary importance,” Coon said.
Coon’s budget would increase police spending by $686,305, or 5.1 percent, and fire spending by $552,470, or 5.7 percent. These increases are largely driven by union contracts, Coon said, adding the city won’t be adding any new officers or firefighters. There is enough funding to staff the department’s community policing unit at its current levels, he added.
The Board of Education’s allotment would increase by $521,850, or 0.5 percent, from $100.6 to $101.1 million. The proposal falls far short of the school board’s roughly $104 million request and will require the board to make cuts, School Superintendent Mark Benigni said.
“We will be working with the Board of Education to continue to reduce expenditures while providing a high-quality education for all students,” Benigni said in an email Friday. “Our health increase alone exceeds the additional funding recommended by the city manager. We are hopeful in the coming weeks that we will be able to reduce health, utility and tuition costs.”
2. Lower pension
In a cover letter to councilors, Coon said the tax increase is primarily driven by a $1.6 million increase in the annual contribution the city needs to pay toward its employee pension plans, otherwise known as the Actuarially Required Contribution.
The additional contribution is needed because the city’s actuaries have advised to gradually lower its assumed rate of return on pension fund investments in the coming years, beginning this year with a reduction from 7.75 percent to 7.375 percent.
Coon said Meriden and other communities have seen return rates as high as 8 or 9 percent in recent years.
“We had a fantastic market run for 10 years, and it has to go down at some point,” Coon said.
3. Catholic school closing
Coon found out just days before finishing his budget that the city will save almost $500,000 due to the closing of Our Lady of Mount Carmel School in June. The city was paying $388,000 to transport students to the parochial school.
The health department will also no longer have to pay for nursing and other services for the school, which Coon estimated would save about $100,000.
4. Fire chief request
Coon’s proposal doesn’t include funding for a second deputy fire chief position. Fire Chief Ken Morgan recently made the case for the addition to the City Council Finance Committee.
Coon said he didn’t include the position, which would cost about $150,000 for salary and benefits, because he wasn’t able to get enough feedback from councilors prior to the budget’s release.
Morgan wants to add the second deputy chief position and divide administrative and operational duties between the two posts.
He cited a 2011 management study that recommended adding the position.
5. IT upgrades
The capital improvement plan in Coon’s proposal includes roughly $700,000 in information technology upgrades, including protection against cyber security threats.
“There have been communities in Connecticut, nearby, that have been hit by cyber criminals,” Coon said.
The capital improvement plan also includes $250,000 for an upcoming, state-mandated property revaluation.