By SHERIDAN ROY
Southington Town Manager Mark Sciota submitted his proposed general government budget to the finance department on Feb. 22 at a total of $55,085,104. The budget includes all town services and employees except the schools and school personnel.
Sciota’s proposal asks for an increase of $1,834,238 (3.45 percent) from the current budget, but that increase includes an $850,000 contingency fund.
“This budget is submitted after extensive work by our department heads who have taken the direction given to them by my office back in December and have truly met, and in many cases exceeded, my expectations,” Sciota said in a letter to the board of finance attached to the budget proposal.
Once again, the general government budget will be reduced by money set aside by the board of finance for one-time capital expenditures. This year, Sciota will use approximately $1.67 million from this fund, an increase of almost $600,000 from last year’s amount.
The result is a $1.2 million increase to taxpayers compared to last year’s budget, a 2.4 percent increase.
“I would like to recognize the partnership between the town departments, board of finance and town council, and their continued commitment to providing the best services revenue can support and their effort to preserve town services,” Sciota said in the letter.
The BOF has already received the board of education’s proposed $100,487,097. The combined budget proposals total $155,552,201—an increase of $6.5 million (4.36 percent) from the current budget.
If both budget proposals are adopted as-is, the town’s mill rate would need to increase 0.88 to a minimum rate of 30.48.
“I would like to recognize the exceptional efforts of our development team and all that they have accomplished in attracting new business and new residential units,” said Sciota. “I would also like to recognize the assessment and tax team led by Teresa Babon, as well as the finance team led by Emilia Portelinha, for their tireless efforts in assisting with this budget.”
Sciota pointed to a pair of unanticipated costs that drove the increase. First, the town was forced to increase its contributions for MERS (municipal employees’ retirement system) payments by more than $600,000 than anticipated. Second, the Gov. Ned Lamont is requiring Southington’s BOE to contribute $270,241 to the teacher pension cost sharing.
The next step in the process will be a public hearing on both budgets on March 4 at DePaolo Middle School. The Board of Finance will review both the BOE and general government propose budgets. On March 27, the BOF will make their recommendations to the town council.
The Town Council will hold a public hearing at the municipal center on April 22 before adopting the budget on May 13. On May 15, the BOF will set the mill rate for the 2019-2020 budget.
“I can manage Southington if I know what I can manage,” Sciota said at a legislative breakfast at the Elks Lodge on Thursday. “My budget will reflect [the governor’s] numbers, so it’s a matter of ‘Can I trust these numbers? Are these worst-case-scenario numbers?’”
The day before Sciota presented his budget to the BOF, he spoke at a breakfast with town officials and residents. Sciota and town officials talked about the budget process and the strains added by the state.
At the panel discussion, town council chair Chris Palmieri said that the governor’s budget would increase educational funding for Southington and decrease capital project funding in addition to the MERS obligation.
“All together, this results in a loss of $251,843 in state funding that will need to be absorbed by our town budget,” Palmieri said.
Southington’s state representatives offered mixed reviews of the governor’s budget address during the panel. Sen. Rob Sampson (R-16) and Rep. Gale Mastrofrancesco (R-80) both said an expansion of government was a concern.
“The government is growing and the state seems to believe it knows what’s best for our children,” said Mastrofrancesco. “As a member of the appropriations committee, I feel we need to look at wants, not needs. Taxing isn’t a solution.”
Sampson encouraged residents to be in communication with their representatives to offer push-back.
“I am disappointed with the governor’s budget address and its details. I am concerned with the direction of the state,” said Sampson. “This budget spends more than the previous year and includes a wild amount of new taxes.”
Rep. Joe Aresimowicz (D-31), serving his last term in office, said this term he hopes to be the “voice of reason” and call out issues on both sides.
“There are things in this budget I don’t like either. Gov. Lamont said to come to the table and have a discussion. His job is to come forth with revenue estimates and send a message,” said Aresimowicz. “Some of our expenses are too low. We need to invest in our infrastructure, in our transportation. Every time we throw things out and say ‘we tax too high,’ but don’t offer any alternatives, it’s not fair.”
To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Sheridan Roy, email her at SRoy@SouthingtonObserver.com.