Poor attendance at BOF public hearing could be good sign

By SHERIDAN ROY

STAFF WRITER

Only a handful of residents spoke out during the Board of Finance 2019-2020 budget public hearing at DePaolo Middle School on Monday, March 4, but officials say that could be a good sign.

“Seeing a crowd of mostly employees of the town and schools, I think that’s a compliment to you,” Board of Education chair Brian Goralski said to the BOF at the hearing. “Years ago, this auditorium was crowded with parents afraid of what would happen to their students. Parents of Southington trust you. They know you value education in Southington.”

BOF chair John Leary also said that he interpreted it as trust in the board to properly sort and recommend a responsible budget.

“It can also indicate that the public believes that coming out and engaging will have little impact on the budget,” said Leary after the hearing, “considering that when people are unhappy or anxious about the impact of the budget, they generally will come out to voice their opinion.”

Now that the BOF has received budget proposals from both the BOE and the Town Manager, the next step is to review it, make any changes they feel necessary, and propose the 2019-20 budget to the town council. The council will then hold a vote to approve it, and finally, the BOF will set the mill rate.

Before any BOF work has been done, the combined budget totals $155.6 million, which is $6.5 million over the current year. The BOE is seeking an increase of $4.7 million (4.9 percent), and the town is seeking an increase of $1.9 million (3.4 percent).

The grand list supplied $1.8 million of tax revenue at the current mill rate which will offset the total spending increase. The combined impact on the mill rate is an increase of 0.88, which would be a 2.89 percent increase on property taxes.

Residents who came out to speak at the hearing did so in support of the budget proposals.

A business owner in downtown Southington said that over the years she has seen the needs for services grow as the community has continued to grow, and commented the town manager’s budget is “as frugal as it can be” from her perspective as an onlooker. She added that as a business owner, she meets many school teachers, and felt teachers should be treated better from a financial aspect, suggesting merit pay for teachers who go above and beyond at their jobs.

Another resident, a teacher at a nearby community and a parent of a child at Southington schools, said updates and enhancements to programming is necessary in order for Southington schools to keep up with other districts.

“I would argue that residents would pay more to improve, rather than to maintain,” she said.

Goralski said the BOE budget proposal is “needs-driven,” and commented that the grand list growth is a positive reflection of the town’s efforts to be an inviting place to live, work and grow.

“If we don’t put new initiatives into our proposals going forward, that will drive down the interest of coming to our community,” Goralski said.

Another resident spoke in support of the proposed education budget, pointing out that education is “not a factory or an assembly line” as it tailors to individual needs.

In the general government budget proposal, Town Manager Mark Sciota highlighted certain areas of significance. His proposal includes two additional firefighters, a parking lot at the highway parks division, a highway dump truck, a new firetruck, and increase and improvements to municipal parking in downtown Plantsville.

Sciota also pointed out an unanticipated increase in the budget from the state of about $600,000 as a result of new calculations in the municipal employments retirement system (MERS) which was announced in January. MERS is a retirement fund for town employees which the employees and taxpayers pay into.

Sciota’s budget also includes a contingency of $850,000, and use of the excess fund balance—the town’s “rainy day fund” which is used only for one time capital projects—at $1.7 million.

“Every member of the BOF is committed to collaborating with stakeholders, assessing the economy, asking questions, seeking input and ultimately making a fiscally responsible recommendation to the town council,” said Leary. “Taxpayers can participate in this process by reviewing the budget, voicing opinions, watching and attending meetings and collaborating with us as we move forward to a final recommendation.”

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

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