Finance board okays budget; next step is Town Council review

By JEN CARDINES

STAFF WRITER

Last week, the Board of Finance (BOF) unanimously adopted the budget for the 2017-18 fiscal year after months of workshops and planning with town boards and commissions. With uncertainty at the state level, town officials said that preparing the upcoming budget was the hardest yet.

The March 29 meeting opened with a public hearing for a contingency request, and while no one from the public spoke, the board voted in favor of increasing the General Fund Contingency account from $850,000 to $6 million in the proposed fiscal year 2017-18 budget. Because they cannot predict what the state might fund, the BOF allotted more money for the contingency fund.

“The contingency is there because we do not know what the state will do,” BOF member John Moise said during the meeting. “Unfortunately, we’re looking at anywhere from $4.5 to $7 million lost—at least—to the Town of Southington.”

Chairman John Leary said that the problems at the state level “will come to roost” in Southington. “There’s nothing we can do to prevent it, however we can plan properly,” he said.

With five motions on the table, the BOF unanimously voted in favor of the main components that make up the entire budget.

The general government budget was approved for $56,130,363, which is an increase of about $6.5 million over last year.

The Board of Education (BOE) budget was approved for $87,309,939 after cuts were made from the original proposal of nearly $95 million. Before the vote, BOF member Kevin Beaudoin said that the cut was a little steeper than he would’ve liked to give the BOE. His concern regarded the total salary increase of existing personnel, where the BOE needs $1.6 million just to cover salary increases.

“That is a contract that has to be paid regardless of if we give them a penny,” Beaudoin said. “There was a lot of compromising on both sides, but we do work well as a team.”

Unlike other town departments, the BOE will see a $5 million cut to $92.3 million. Both the Animal Control and the Sewer budgets were adopted as proposed. The Animal Control fund was approved for $242,872 and the sewer fund was approved for $5,502,000.

The final component of the town budget involves the five-year Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) from 2017-2022. The projects that fall under the 2017-18 fiscal year were approved for $8,784,463 to proceed with the recommended funded strategies in year one of the plan.

Each person on the BOF recognized the difficulty that came with this year’s budget preparation. Leary said that Southington is in good shape, but the problems in Connecticut will affect the town regardless.

“We remain a very healthy town inside of a very troubled state,” Leary said. “If you picture us both in a boat—a healthy Southington in a bad boat—it’s a problem. We have the highest rainy day fund that we’ve had, yet we remain in troubled state. We can’t lose sight that some of the state problems will come to roost here.”

While the budget process was lengthy, it’s not over yet. Moving forward, the BOF adopted budget needs approval by the Town Council this month. The Council will hold a public hearing for the budget on Monday, April 24 at 7 p.m. in the Municipal Center public assembly room.

The council must adopt a budget no later than May 8 so that the BOF can adjust the tax mill rate on or before May 15.

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