By TAYLOR HARTZ
The Town Council voted on May 9 to unanimously approve budgets for the general government, the Board of Education (BOE), the sewer fund, and the animal control fund.
The new budget will go into effect on July 1 for the 2016-2017 fiscal year, at a total of $147 million. The approved budgets included cuts to several departments that the council hopes can be restored once the state budget is finalized.
“Our intent tonight is to approve this budget as a concept,” said Chairman Mike Riccio (R) on May 9. The town was facing a May 16 deadline for finalizing their budget. The deadline is set in the town charter even though the state has yet to finalize its budget and town funding.
The Chairman explained that the cuts approved at this week’s meeting reflect the “worst case scenario” for the state budget. Once Gov. Dannel Malloy (D) has signed a state budget, the council hopes many of the reductions they were forced to make can be added back.
The town’s general government budget was reduced to $49.6 million from the $50 million proposed by the Board of Finance (BOF) in March. The largest cut was an $868,737 revenue reduction from a state cost-sharing grant, followed by $430,290 in cuts to MRS tax sharing revenue.
Regular wage reductions throughout the town included a $200,000 cut to the Southington Police Department, a $3,380 cut to the finance department, and $1,525 in reductions to the human resources department. Highway overtime was also reduced by $50,000.
The council also approved a $122,000 cut to out-of-service medical transfers and a $58,109 cut from the town’s contingency.
The BOE had requested a $92.9 million budget, and a $92.7 budget was approved by the BOF. Councilor Victoria Triano (R) made a motion to approve a $91.7 million budget for the BOE, which was supported unanimously.
Triano said she voted to approve the $868,737 in cuts “with the real hope that we can restore all of that.”
The council also voted 9-0 to approve a $5.4 million sewer control fund budget, and $227,522 for animal control.
Lastly, a budget for capitol improvements was approved along party lines in a 6-3 vote. The five-year capitol improvement plan is a short-range plan for municipal projects and equipment purchases, and was the only budget item that didn’t pass unanimously.
This budget item was added to the agenda by Ed Pocock (R) at the start of the meeting, and Tom Lombardi (R) made a motion to approve it at $19,979,128.
Democrats voted against the budget item, and John Barry (D) spoke out against it. “The level of debt service is exploding,” said Barry, who called the plan “unrealistic.”
Republicans supported the plan, passing it 6-3. “We cannot get into the cycle we were in before where things aren’t repaired,” said Pocock.
Town Attorney Mark Sciota said full funding can be restored once the governor’s budget is signed. The next step, said Sciota, will be for departments to request additional funding from the BOF. The BOF will then consider these requests at their meeting, and submit them to the Town Council, who can they review them line by line.
Triano expressed concerns about the approved town budget, but supported the cuts as a precautionary measure. “If this budget were to stay, it would do great damage to our town and BOE,” she said.
“We need to move forward with a workable budget,” said Triano. “We’re hoping for the best case scenario.”
Riccio said he thinks the approved cuts are a responsible move for the town. “If the governor cuts the budget to the town, the balance doesn’t fall to the tax payers,” he said.
The chairman said he has been in frequent contact with Southington’s state legislators and is hopeful that the town budget will be fully restored to what was proposed by the BOF.
Chris Palmieri (D), said that members of the state delegation “Have listened to our concerns, and they have gone back to the governor to advocate for Southington.”
“They’re assuring us that the cut isn’t going to be anywhere near these numbers we hear tonight,” said Riccio, who said the worst case scenario as of now is a reduction of $100,000 in state funding to Southington.