by Rob Glidden
The Town Council approved a budget of approximately $129 million for the next fiscal year, with the Board of Education’s budget splitting the councilors along party lines.
The general government budget of about $45.1 million was approved unanimously, with several councilors praising Town Manager Garry Brumback for avoiding an increase in spending.
For the Board of Education, the Republican majority chose to accept the Board of Finance’s recommendation without restoring any funds. This amount is about $84.2 million. Councilors in favor of this decision expressed concerns about how increased taxes would impact the town as a whole.
“I’ve had sleepless nights over this,” said Councilor Al Natelli. “I would love to spend more on education but I don’t think this the time to do that beyond what we already have.”
Minority Leader Chris Palmieri and the council’s other two Democrats attempted to restore some of the funds to the school board’s original proposal. The first motion was to restore $300,000, which failed along party lines. Afterwards, another unsuccessful motion was made to restore $150,000, which would be balanced by cuts to the town’s capital fund.
“I would like to see additional money returned to the Board of Education,” Palmieri said. “I think the future of education in town is worth that amount.”
The Democrats noted that spending on indvidual students is below the state’s average and has been decreasing in recent years.
“It’s a concern of them when town leaders don’t consider these Per-Pupil Expenditures, especially when we’re seeing a decline,” said Councilor John Barry. “This will have an impact on the kids.”
The Council Republicans expressed confidence that the Board of Education and the school administrators would be able to maintain the district’s strong reputation even if they spent less on each student than other towns.
“I think that we’re in a good position and I don’t think throwing money at students does that much,” said Vice-Chairman Peter Romano. “Leadership does and we have great leadership here.”
When the time came to discuss the town’s capital projects, Barry became frustrated with the amount of bonded projects and said it was inconsistent for the Republicans to support so many capital projects but express reluctance to restore any amount to this year’s BOE budget. He referred to the process as “a shell game” and said the Republicans were determined to vote down any budgetary motion made by the other party, even if it was “to add five dollars.”
The Board of Education now faces difficult choices, particularly in regard to the planned introduction of all-day kindergarten. They will adjust their budget to reflect the council’s decision later next week.
“Naturally, I’m disappointed but I understand the complexities they’re dealing with, especially at the state level,” said school board Chairman Brian Goralski.
Several council members stated that the impact to the schools would be balanced somewhat by savings in the town’s spending on insurance. The council also referenced a “surplus,” although Goralski said this wasn’t the proper term and that this amount was a result of the district’s annual precaution of freezing a portion of the supplies account for unexpected needs.
The budget is expected to result in a very small 0.02 decrease in the mill rate for next year. This means that, on average, most homeowners will see a $4 reduction in their tax bill.
The Board of Finance set the mill rate on Wednesday, after The Observer went to press.