SOUTHINGTON — Education and fire department spending were the top concerns at a public hearing Monday night on next year’s budget.
The Board of Finance approved a $153.8 million budget recommendation earlier this month that would require a 1.3 percent increase in the tax rate. The council has final jurisdiction over the budget and can adjust the recommendation.
Firefighters and Board of Fire Commission members spoke in favor of funding for two new career firefighters in the budget.
Fire commission member Christine Shanley-Buck said there was a “severe” lack of career firefighters.
“Over the past eight years, not one full time firefighter has been added to the staff,” she said.
Al Urso, a former volunteer fire captain, questioned the need for more career firefighters. He believes the two positions will cost more than the overtime that will be reduced by the new hires.
“To tell the public you have a shortage of firefighters, it is not true,” Urso said.
Fire Battalion Chief Glenn Dube, the fire union president, said he supported the request. In recent fires, Southington had to call for aid from surrounding towns, he said.
Board of Education chairman Brian Goralski urged the council to fund an additional $1.1 million in school spending. That amount was cut from the education board’s funding request by the finance board.
“We believe it was the right number to move this district forward,” he said.
New education requests included implementing foreign language in elementary schools and a special education teacher to avoid sending students out of the district. Goralski said if the $1.1 million isn’t restored, those new measures won’t take place and there may even be reductions to current services.
Steve Leggett, a former Southington High School teacher, said the elementary foreign language expansion wasn’t a need and that now wasn’t the time to fund it.
“Maybe at some point it’s a good thing to do. It’s a want,” he said.
In a 4 to 2 vote, the finance board approved a $99 million education spending plan and a $54.8 million general government plan for the 2019-20 fiscal year. The two “no” votes favored less funding for education, according to finance chairman John Leary.
The mill rate to fund the budget would rise from 30.48 to 30.87. The mill rate is the number of tax dollars levied on every $1,000 of assessed property value.