It’s a new year, and town officials have begun the process of crafting their annual budget proposals.
“Right now it seems like a typical year for Plainville,” Town Manager Robert Lee said. “ … I don’t see any big concerns, but you know these things can change relatively quickly.”
Lee and Superintendent of Schools Steven LePage held a budget forum at the library on Tuesday, Jan. 7. While two potential budget scenarios were presented, Lee pointed out that he had yet to receive the Board of Education’s operational budget or all requests from municipal department heads.
The first scenario sees both general government and education spending increasing by around 2.5 percent, or $1.4 million. The increase accounts for rising fixed costs — such as wages and insurance — and capital spending.
Paired with around $600,000 of additional revenue the town is anticipating from state grants and grand list growth, this budget would lead to a mill rate increase of 0.55, or 1.6 percent.
The second scenario assumes that a spending increase close to last year’s $1.7 million boost would be necessary, which would increase both sides of the budget by 3 percent.
Still, the tax hike would be smaller than last year – 0.74 mills or 2.1 percent, versus 0.78 mills or 2.3 percent.
The town is in a strong enough position that Lee feels it can ramp up capital spending using savings to address maintenance and upgrades that have been pushed off. That plan would take around $800,000 from the general fund, $1 million from the unassigned fund balance and $200,000 in debt management funds.
The $2 million allocation would be used for various projects, such as replacing aging equipment or repairing roofs and boilers.
The proposal also keeps whole the Board of Education’s nearly $700,000 capital spending request, which includes the construction of a secure entrance at Plainville High School and the annual partial replacement of student Chromebooks.
Lee said Plainville’s unassigned fund balance, which sits at approximately 15 percent of the town’s budget, is currently around $2 million more than what he considers prudent. He is planning to ask the Town Council to consider a policy of keeping the fund – essentially a savings account – lower than 12 percent of the town’s budget.
“Because we’ve built up an unassigned fund balance that's above what I would consider a healthy amount ... I consider this an opportunity to fill in some of the things we’ve pushed back,” Lee said.
Meanwhile, LePage said he believes the school district’s capital request is reasonable and that he’s working to make sure the operational budget request he’s drafting will be so as well.
The Board of Education will hold workshops this month to evaluate the school budget and will likely vote on it at the BOE’s Feb. 10 meeting.
“In our plan I asked for what I need but not more than what I need,” LePage said. “I've been taking a hard look at staffing and services provided and we’ll make sure we support the very best for our kids, but also that we’re operating efficiently … I think we’re going to be in a pretty good position coming in with a reasonable number I know taxpayers can support.”