By Lisa Capobianco
The Town Council passed the budget Monday night, after hours of debate on the general government side. The school board budget passed unanimously, as presented.
During the meeting, council members voted along party lines, 5 to 3, in favor of accepting the governmental budget as presented, which is a total of $51.5 million. This reflects an increase of 14.3 percent or $6.5 million over this year’s adopted budget, of $45,081,001 for Fiscal Year (FY) 2013-2014.
However, the budget proposal includes a one-time capital expenditure of $4.3 million, coming from excess reserves, to underwrite the increase, which leaves an increase in new funds of 4.85 percent.
The school board’s proposed budget totaled $87,072,005. This reflects an increase of 3.4 percent, or $2.8 million over this year’s adopted budget of $84,233,204.
With the final vote for both the general government and school board budgets as presented, the overall expenditure for the town is $138,608,727, or a 7.2 percent increase.
During the meeting, Democrats made recommendations for the proposed general government budget, which also includes the five-year Capital Improvement Plan. They did not vote in favor of either the general government or the Capital Improvement plan, which were voted on separately.
Minority Leader Chris Palmieri said an increase in expenditures of 14.3 percent is high, especially compared to municipal budgets in previous years.
“We’re trying to save taxpayers’ money this year, especially in light of the sewer increase that affects so many of our residents,” Palmieri said.
When they made recommendations to the proposed general government budget, Democrats said they focused on what is needed versus what can be delayed until the next fiscal year. They suggested putting off the addition of a human resource position, which was proposed for $99,507 in the general fund. They also suggested downsizing the IT budget, and putting off half of the proposed purchase of vehicles to be bonded next year. “Normally we try to keep bonded items under $50,000,” said Palmieri. “Individually, some of those are pretty close to that threshold.”
The two parties caucused to review the budget prior to the final vote. Town Council Chairman Mike Riccio, a Republican, who was late due to business, arrived at this time, allowing for the five votes needed to pass the budget.
None of the Democrats proposals were included.
“I’m incredibly disappointed,” said Palmieri. We tried making compromise…we offered a savings of $1.2 million, we offered to reduce that by half, we gave suggestions for how to do that, and not even one suggestion we made has been entertained.”
Republicans said Southington is headed in the right direction with the new budget, which includes a variety of capital improvement projects that were neglected by past councils. When they analyzed the recommendations made by the opposing party, Republicans determined that none of those suggestions would reduce the mill rate for taxpayers.
Councilor Tom Lombardi said some of the proposed items in the budget that Democrats recommended for reductions would be funded by cash left over from last year’s surplus, resulting in a minimum effect on taxpayers.
“We feel that we’re going in the right direction,” said Republican Town Councilor Cheryl Lounsbury. “What we put off now is not going to save the homeowner much of anything.”
The Board of Finance is expected to set the Mill Rate at its meeting Wednesday, after The Observer went to press. Readers can check The Observer’s website following that meeting for more information on the mill rate.