By Jesse Buchanan
SOUTHINGTON – Town officials held a public hearing Monday night on a proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year that increases spending by $2.1 million.
The spending plan is before the Board of Finance and will ultimately go to the Town Council for approval. Here are some key numbers in the proposed budget.
That’s the total spending for town and school operating expenses, paying debts on borrowed money and some capital projects proposed for the 2021-22 fiscal year. It’s about $2.1 million more than the current spending plan with the bulk of that hike going to contractual wage increases.
General government operations will cost $43.9 million under the plan, while education will cost $103.6 million.
Town Manager Mark Sciota said it was a conservative budget appropriate for difficult times. Still, the town was able to fund infrastructure improvements, add firefighters and make other additions that are needed.
Education officials have described their portion of the budget as a spending plan that maintains services and makes needed improvements, particularly in special education.
While the town does get revenue from state and federal grants, fees and other sources, the vast majority is collected from property owners. To bring in the additional $2.1 million needed for the proposed budget, the average homeowner would see a tax increase of $127 next fiscal year.
John Leary, Board of Finance chairman, said the number is based on a home value of $200,000.
“When you’re spending other people’s money on other people, it requires very careful oversite,” he said. “Without oversight, it’s easy to overspend and overtax.”
Only one person, Kristen Keska, spoke at Monday’s public hearing. She supported passing the proposed budget without any cuts.
“I have never thought that Southington had done either,” Keska said, referring to Leary’s comment about the potential to overtax and overspend. She’s a teacher in East Hampton and said the school district will need the additional money to help students who have fallen behind during the disruption of COVID-19
“I will always support tax increase in town. I support both the board of education and town budget,” she said.
As new homes and businesses are built and new taxable property brought to town, the list of taxable assets in Southington expands. The grand list, a compilation of taxable property, grew by 1.2 percent, which will generate $1.5 million in new taxes at the current fiscal year’s tax rate.
Leary said that helps fund growth in the budget without raising tax rates on residents.
Sciota’s proposed budget also includes money from the town’s reserves which have increased beyond what town officials want to save.
Southington has a goal of keeping 10 percent of operating expenses in its reserves. Money that accumulates above that amount is used to pay for capital projects, avoiding the need to borrow money.
Sciota said he’s proposing to use $1.8 million excess reserve funds in the 2021/22 budget.