By SHERIDAN CYR
In the days leading up to the recent municipal election, state officials finally settled upon a bipartisan budget, so Board of Finance members wasted no time at their first post-election meeting—the day after votes were cast. On Wednesday, Nov. 8, the BOF welcomed its new members, named their leaders, and rolled up their sleeves to get back to work.
First, new board members, Tony Morrison (R) and Susan Zoni (D), were sworn in. Then, Edward Pocock Jr. nominated John Leary (R) for chair of the board, seconded by Morrison, and passed unanimously. Pocock nominated Joseph Labieniec (R) as vice chair, seconded by Morrison and passed in a unanimous, bipartisan vote.
“Joe and John have done a great job in the past two years in those positions, and I’m sure they’ll do a great job in the next two years,” said BOF Democrat Kevin Beaudoin.
Then, the board outlined the issues on their plate.
Southington’s director of finance Emelia Portelinha reported on the reduced revenues from the recent state budget. Three state-funded programs were cut: elderly circuit breaker ($360,000), distressed municipalities grant ($48,000) and renters rebate (approximately $140,000). Those programs are state-funded, but town-administered.
“[These programs] are designed to help those in the community that are most vulnerable,” said Town Manager Garry Brumback. “The idea of doing away with them, regardless of where the funding comes from, would be extremely difficult and very painful.”
Leary noted that the reduced revenue actually flips the town’s finances. Instead of being over-budget, Southington is now under budget by $212,000.
When asked about these cuts, State Rep. Robert Sampson (R-80) said he, along with State Senator Joe Markley (R-16) and John Fusco (R-81), voted in opposition of the budget due to cuts like these.
“We stood in the face of a lot of pressure to vote against this budget,” said Sampson. He said the priorities are “messed up,” and cut senior citizens in Southington while bailing out Hartford, continuing to subsidize the wrong things.
As chair, Leary asked for the board to get some information around the programs, such as how many people benefit from them and what the criteria is to receive it. He said that would help with the decision-making regarding funding.
The most recent state budget includes about a $1.5 million cut to the town. Prior, the town was running on the governor’s executive order which included approximately $20 million in cuts. An implementer bill is still to come, said Brumback, which may alter the cut. An implementer bill is contained in a state budget, and lists policy provisions needed to implement the budget.
Brumback said the Town Council and Board of Education can continue to manage through the end of the year with the help of a $3 million contingency that the BOF set aside months ago.
The BOE faces the cut of special education state funding. The BOF originally budgeted for $8.3 million in state funding for special education, but the recent budget eliminated that fund and reverted it to excess costs. Excess costs went up from $1.4 million to about $2.1 million.
The BOF budgeted $15 million in Education Sharing Costs (ECS) and are receiving $20 million, but that does not fully make up for special education.
The board decided to put off the BOE budget discussion until January in hopes that “the pieces would settle down and we can look at the whole issue,” said chair Leary.
Brumback said his farewells to the board, saying that the Nov. 8 meeting would be his last. The outgoing manager assured that the board would continue well in Mark Sciota’s hands.
“This board has consistently been a nonpartisan board and always operating in the best interest of the town,” said Brumback. “We have jointly transitioned the way this community does budgeting and the implementation of those budgets.”
To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Sheridan Cyr, email her at SCyr@SouthingtonObserver.com.