The budget season officially came to a close last week with the setting of the mill rate, and town boards and local officials prepare for any necessary changes. The 2019-20 budget becomes effective on June 1.
Last Wednesday, the board of finance unanimously approved a mill rate increase of 0.16 (0.5 percent), bringing the 2019-20 mill rate to 30.64, as proposed by the town council.
“One of our big items for the year is to set the mill rate,” said BOF chair John Leary (R). “Our duty is to set the mil rate, check the math and make sure we are taxing residents properly.”
Early in the budget process, the BOF reviews the grand list, which gathers all of the taxable property in town.
“We look at revenues of the town and the services it provides and charges for, then we look at expenses,” Leary said. “Expenses are greater than revenue, and that requires additional funding. The difference is close to a number called ‘taxes needed.’”
The mill rate determines the taxes needed from residents of Southington based on their assets.
With a 0.16 mill rate increase, residents owning assets with an appraised value of $100,000 would expect an annual increase of $11 in taxes. Those with assets with an appraised value of $400,000 would expect an annual increase of $45 in taxes.
The budget that the BOF proposed to the town council would have resulted in a 0.39 mill rate increase, but several items were cut by the town council at their May 13 meeting before adopting the budget. The capital budget was reduced by $550,100. The self-insurance budget was reduced by $200,000 ($48K on the town side, $152K on the board of education side).
Additional reductions of $87,503 were cut from various locations including items from the fire department budget, the deputy town manager and town manager executive secretary salary.
“We are thrilled to offer residents such a low tax increase,” said town council chair Chris Palmieri (D). “We have heard from a lot of residents, especially those on fixed incomes, who have faced struggles keeping up with taxes. I feel proud of the work we did, especially coming off a zero percent increase last year.”
The town council voted along party lines to reduce the capital budget by removing two items from the budget and giving the town manager direction to prioritize the projects using cash from the 2018-19 budget to fund them.
“There is money in this budget that is cash funded from budget reallocation which is amounts that were not spent this year,” said Palmieri. “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 the projects.”
Republicans who voted against this argued the town manager had already laid out his priority projects.
“[Town manager Mark Sciota] had already submitted his priorities. They [the Democrats] wanted to make Mark spend the money and not them,” said minority chair Vicky Triano (R). “He knows what his priorities are and he prepares this budget over the course of several months. If they want to cut something, they have the ability to do so.”
Several cuts were made to the fire department’s budget requests after the chair had conversations with the fire chief.
“With such a low mill rate increase, we were able to approve two new firefighters,” said Palmieri. “We then worked with the chief in other areas to reduce the budget to offset costs of the new firefighters.”
Cuts were made to equipment, legal fees and overtime, totaling $75K. The two new personnel cost $70K.
Deputy Town Manager
Triano said she was disappointed that funding for a deputy town manager was cut, along with a salary increase for the town manager’s executive secretary’s salary in correlation with additional work that would have been required if a deputy town manager was approved.
“We were looking for someone who was already a town employee, so there would be no additional health care costs or benefits,” said Triano. “It would not be a brand new position—just someone to help Mark.”
She added Sciota and his secretary Lara Nichols have already upped their workload by taking on the tasks of the former town attorney’s assistant, which was cut when the town hired an outside attorney.
“Lara has been picking up all of those duties, and she is working so hard. And, Mark handles much more complicated duties,” she said. “Both of those budget items should have been approved.”
Board of Education
While the town budget saw a number of cuts, the board of education budget was approved as the BOF had proposed, less the $152K self-insurance contribution. However, the BOE was hoping the council would restore some of the funding that the BOF had cut.
“I am grateful for the support of the BOF recommendation, but the BOE has a big task ahead of us. We have to cut $1.2 million from a proposal that we believe was valid and legitimate,” said BOE chair Brian Goralski (R). “This is where we have to trust the experts we hire to guide us.”
Goralski said the meeting was “incredibly political, and sadly too personalized by many of [the town councilors] rather than looking out for the best interest of town.”
He specifically said speeches given by Dawn Miceli (D) and Kelly Morrissey (D) were “unnecessary and disrespectful,” and “not factually based.” He said Will Dziedzic’s comments about the budget being the most troubling vote of the night were unfair as he had not attended any BOE budget workshops or spoken to anyone on the BOE.
“It’s a sad swing of the pendulum back to the days of mistrust and obviously poor communication,” said Goralski. “The comments I heard were divisive.” Ultimately Goralski said all elected boards must work together to do what’s best for the community.
To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Sheridan Roy, email her at SRoy@SouthingtonObserver.com.
2019-20 Budget Season