Town departments: Beating the annual shell game

Mark Sciota, Southington Town Manager

By SHERIDAN CYR

STAFF WRITER

Town Manager Mark Sciota commended the departments he oversees for being proactive and submitting fiscally responsible budget proposals to his office amidst a difficult budget season in the state of Connecticut. The town manager sat down to discuss how a “flat” budget doesn’t mean there are no proposed changes. He met with The Observer to talk about the main changes in his proposed budget.

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The General Government proposed budget submitted last week by the Town Manager featured a 1.96 percent increase. In the last nine years available on the town website, the lowest percent increase in a Town Manager’s budget was 2 percent.

“It’s not really a Town Manager’s budget, it’s a department heads’ budget,” Sciota said. “I needed them to understand where we are in Connecticut at this time and come into a budget with that in mind. All of the department heads met or exceeded my expectations.”

Sciota’s proposed budget includes a $1 million contingency, a fund he put in place with the expectation of the state potentially making additional midyear cuts to financial support for municipalities. Before the contingency balance is added to the budget, the general government budget requests a mere 0.01 percent increase at a $7,281 value.

“The contingency is there because I have to prepare the town for mid-year cuts,” said Sciota. “We want to protect the town. If the Board of Finance and Town Council feel I put too much in there, they have the right to cut back on that. I feel the number is sufficient, and I hope it is.”

If the Town Manager’s budget and the Board of Education’s budget are both accepted and adopted exactly as they currently stand, the mill rate would increase from 30.48 to 31.43. A 0.95 mill rate increase would equal an additional annual tax of $0.95 for every $1,000 of assessed property.

Most of the departments hovered somewhere between no change and a 2 percent change (in either direction) from last year’s budget. Twelve departments, out of 68 in total, were in the double digits for percent change.

The parks department was cut 100 percent and combined with the highway department, which increased 45.4 percent because of that. The Town Attorney-Legal Services balance was cut 46.6 percent because the Town Attorney no longer works as a full time town employee. Sciota reduced contingency appropriations by 55.4 percent and the capital budget by 36.4 percent.

The budget for environmental problems increased by 30 percent. Sciota explained that services are planned for the landfill on DePaolo Drive to address dioxide concerns for $75,000 in fiscal year 19. It also includes groundwater sampling at the landfill for $15,000.

The Board of Finance will hold its public hearing at DePaolo Middle School on the town and BOE budgets on March 13. All department heads are required to be in attendance to answer any questions that may come up.

“I hope at the public hearing that the people understand that the departments worked incredibly hard to make a budget with the taxpayers in mind,” said Sciota. “To add just $7,281 in a full fiscal year was phenomenal, and they deserve credit for that.”

After the BOF’s public hearing, they will enter additional workshops to hear from different departments. Then the Town Council will hold their public hearing on April 23.

Town Council chair Chris Palmieri said the council always holds a public hearing on the meeting before they vote to adopt the budget.

“I want to make sure we have time to listen and digest the information presented to us by the public,” Palmieri said. “We will adopt the budget at the May 14 meeting.”

After the budget is adopted, the BOF convenes at a regular meeting to set the mill rate.

To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Sheridan Cyr, email her at SCyr@SouthingtonObserver.com.

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