By SHERIDAN CYR
In an effort to bridge together the organizations within Southington’s local government and open a continuous dialogue between the branches, Town Council Chair Chris Palmieri announced the return of the Committee of the Chairs at the Nov. 27 council meeting.
On Dec. 6, the committee met for the first time in the town hall chambers.
Committee members include Palmieri, Board of Education chair Brian Goralski, Planning and Zoning Commission chair Michael DelSanto, Board of Finance chair John Leary, along with department heads Interim Town Manager Mark Sciota and Superintendent of Schools Tim Connellan.
The negative impact of the state budget has put stress on each of these departments. After the most recent budget was passed back in October, the governor went over the heads of the legislature—an act within his power—and made additional cuts in another effort to repair the state’s deficit.
Those gubernatorial rulings included an unexpected, $1.7 million cut to Southington’s state funding.
In preparation for this fiscal year, the BOF set aside a contingency budget, essentially an emergency backup, of about $3 million. Now including the governor’s $1.7 million cut, Southington exceeds the contingency by about $1.5 million.
Leary said the BOF is discussing the decision and procedures for releasing the $3 million reserve, probably in increments between now and the end of the fiscal year. He said that this would minimize risk at both the local government and BOE level.
“If there is something we held—and the town is getting something and the BOE isn’t—we can do some left-pocket, right-pocket adjustments,” said Leary. This proposal would need to go through the BOF before it can become anything official, but the Committee of Chairs meeting framed the issue.
Goralski reported the BOE budget was impacted “a great deal,” noting that the BOE is responsible by law to have a balanced budget. “The assumption of the BOF was that we were going to get an $8 million grant, and that grant didn’t exist. We now have to re-appropriate our budget in the middle of the fiscal year.”
Connellan said a hold was put on all expenses this year “unless absolutely necessary for curriculum.” This included two capital improvement projects at the cost of around $250,000. Leary cautioned this type of action.
“We may have to look for a more substantive change,” said Leary. “This gets us through one year and becomes a problem next year. We may be looking at a multi-year cut from the state.”
According to Sciota, the legislature had given the governor discretion to balance the budget to reduce expenditures. The interim manager said that the governor’s cuts were focused almost entirely on municipal funding.
The budget conversation ended with talk of a meeting between Sciota, Connellan, director of finance Emilia Portelinha and BOE director of business and finance Sherri Dinello to compare and discuss town and BOE budgets.
In addition to the budget discussion, the chairs talked about a West Street corridor study that has become an ongoing discussion since given the highest priority in the 2016 Southington Plan of Conservation Develop-ment. Promoting the appropriate development and redevelopment of West Street was given a 9.17 out of 10 priority rating in the independent study.
The PZC is seeking state assistance, as West Street is a state road, to conduct a traffic study that they feel is much needed.
The chairs also discussed Sciota’s transition from Town Attorney and Deputy Town Manager to Interim Town Manager, along with the appointments of a new Town Attorney and Asst. Town Attorney. All three of these appointments were agenda items at the Dec. 11 council meeting.
The Committee of the Chairs will meet on the first Wednesday of every month at 4:30 p.m. In the upper level conference room of town hall. The next committee meeting is scheduled for Jan. 3 and is open to the public.
To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Sheridan Cyr, email her at SCyr@SouthingtonObserver.com.