The Southington Town Council adopted the 2019-20 town budget at $152,987,271, which would require a 0.16 mill rate increase subject to the board of finance’s approval on Wednesday, May 15. Of the total budget, the general government budget sits at $54.16 million and the board of education budget at $98.82 million.
Several cuts were made to the general government budget, many of which saw votes along party lines.
Democrats made two motions to eliminate accounts in the capital budget for upcoming projects. Instead, majority leaders requested the town manager manage those projects as a top priority and use budget reallocation monies from fiscal year 2018-19 to fund them.
“There is money in this budget that is cash-funded from budget reallocation—which has amounts that were not spent this year,” said council chair Chris Palmieri (D), “The motion is effectively directing the town manager to prioritize these projects, but to reduce the budget by this amount for next year so we’re not taxing our residents again for that project.”
Republicans said that the town manager had already listed out his top priority projects, and he would not have included those items in the capital budget if they were not priorities already.
“It was already said that this project needs to go forward,” said Tom Lombardi (R). “Frankly, I have seen the way our town manager operates, and if he doesn’t need something that’s cash-funded, he’s going to save it and put it back in in a future year. I have faith that the town manager will handle funds appropriately and the benefits to the taxpayer will get there.”
Both motions passed, 5-4, along party lines.
The council also voted along party lines to put a hiring freeze on the open deputy manager position ($10,000) and a salary increase ($2,503) that would have been needed to expand the job requirements of town manager executive assistant Lara Nichols. Both votes passed, 5-4, along party lines.
“When I agreed to hire [town manager Mark Sciota], he came with a wealth of experience, and I was not in favor at that time of a deputy town manager,”
said Dawn Miceli (D). “In this fiscal climate right now, it’s just not something that I can support.”
Victoria Triano (R) called the hiring freeze “penny-wise and pound-foolish.” “This town is growing so much, and for $10,000 to have someone help and take over in case you become incapacitated, or God forbid, go on vacation… we’re going to deny the man an assistant?” she said.
Democrats Miceli and John Barry attempted to reduce a request for additional firefighters, but the motion failed. After discussing personnel, expenses, and overtime, the overall fire department budget was cut $75,000.
The council voted to reduce contributions to the self-insurance fund by $200,000, splitting the burden between general government ($48,000) and the board of education ($152,000).
William Dziedzic (R), Kelly Morrissey (D), and Miceli expressed disappointment with the BOE budget, but the school budget passed, 7-2. Morrissey and Miceli were the only dissenting votes.
“I am disappointed in the BOE and district administration as I continue to hear that we have to cut services, are below level services, or to consider per-pupil spending rate,” said Morrissey. “It would be refreshing to hear of budget reductions that show the department is being efficient.”
Morrissey questions secretarial staffing needs by the schools. Miceli questioned the BOE’s commitment to containing costs.
“[The town manager] stayed within parameters that our finance board asked of him,” she said, “but with the BOE coming in at a nearly 5 percent increase, I just don’t feel they exhibited the same example.” She added she did not appreciate BOE charges that the council hasn’t properly funded schools over the years.
On May 15, the BOF will review and adopt the mill rate, and the 2019-20 fiscal year budget process will officially be completed.
To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Sheridan Roy, email her at SRoy@SouthingtonObserver.com.