By TAYLOR HARTZ
The Board of Finance (BOF) held three workshops this month to determine the budget for the 2016-2017 fiscal year. At a public hearing on March 7, the BOF opened the floor for residents to share their questions and concerns before these workshops.
This year’s budget request totaled $143 million, a $4.7 million increase from last year.
Expenses in the current proposal exceed the current tax revenue, and that could lead to an increase in taxes.
Unless budget cuts occur, tax revenue will need to increase to cover the remaining $2.7 million in additional spending. Once the town council approves the final budget, the BOF will review the town’s mill rate to determine if taxes need to be adjusted.
A $65 million increase in the town’s Grand List for 2015 will provide $1.9 million of the needed tax revenue at the current mill rate. This makes up for nearly $2 million of the new spending, that would have otherwise come from a tax raise.
BOF Chairman John Leary said Southington’s budget is essentially developed in two parts, the Board of Education (BOE) budget, and the general government budget. This year, the BOE is seeking a $3.2 million increase, and the general government is requesting $1.5 million more than last year.
Superintendent of Southington Public Schools Timothy Connellan spoke before the board in favor of the BOE increase. Connellan said this budget will “provide the type and amount of support necessary to cultivate an educational culture built around best practices and success.”
He said that he and administrators district-wide worked to develop a budget that supported technology in the curriculum, data driven instruction, and professional development. The proposed increase is 3.6 percent higher than last year’s BOE budget.
BOE Chairman Brian Goralski said that the increases received unanimous support from the board, and that all members “believe 100-percent in the budget we brought forward to you.”
Town Manager Garry Brumback spoke on behalf of the general government budget, which he said had two primary drivers for the 2.99 percent increase.
The first driver—$1.1 million in increases—came from a larger contribution to debt service. This debt payment includes the bonding for the two middle school renovations and costs associated with the referendums passed in the November election.
The second driver—just under $500,000 in increases—came from five union contract negotiations.
“What we have here is a budget that will maintain the resources that our residents have come to expect,” said Brumback.
The Chairman then opened the floor for public comment, and five Southington residents voiced their concerns.
During this time, Chris Robertson, a member of the Board of Fire Commissioners, and Mark Case, a 35-year volunteer firefighter, expressed concerns about the fire department’s budget.
“Public safety should be number one,” said Robertson, who said the fire department had a great need for new equipment and new apparatus to keep firefighters safe.
Case, a member of the department’s Recruitment and Retention Committee, said an increase to the $1,000 line item for this committee was necessary to address a shortage of firefighters.
“The BOF is collaborating with taxpayers to determine their priorities and thoughts regarding the budget,” said Leary.
Leary explained that throughout the budget negotiation process, the BOF would review the budget as presented, but had limited power to change it.
“We could cut but we cannot add,” he said.
The Chairman encouraged anyone who felt additional funding was needed to speak to the relevant department head, who could bring a request to the BOF. Leary said that money could be appropriated or transferred throughout the year, but “has to go through the leadership.”
The BOF followed their public hearing with workshops on March 16, March 22, and concluded on March 23, when they came to an informal consensus on the budget.
“Our recommendation must not only take into account the diversity of our people,” said Leary, “but the economic times we face as a community.”
On March 30, the BOF held a formal meeting where they announced the budget that they will recommend to the Town Council.
The council will now host a similar series of public hearing and reviews, and adjust the budget as they see fit before returning it to the BOF. Their approved budget will then be used by the BOF to determine the mill rate and levee taxes, said Leary.
According to the town’s charter, the process needs to be concluded by the third Monday in May.