The board of finance approved the 2020-21 budget with a 0.42% increase to the mill rate on March 30 during a special meeting via teleconference call.
The board was originally presented with a 1.47% increase to the mill rate after receiving both the board of education and the general government budget proposals. Earlier in the year, the board for the first time issued budgetary guidance to both the BOE and the general government, asking that the total budget increase remain below a 1.5% increase.
However, in the face of the coronavirus pandemic, the BOF took it one step further and made additional cuts to the budget proposals. The new mill rate for the upcoming fiscal year will be 30.77.
“The budget that was presented to us was a 1.47% tax increase, which was a reasonable budget to start with,” said BOF chair John Leary (R). “And then, because of the COVID-19 and its effect on the community, on the people, the amount of uncertainty it put into the process, it shifted our thoughts individually on where we stood with the budget.”
With the new mill rate, a property appraised at $200,000 would have an assessment of $140,000 and will pay an additional $18 in taxes under the new mill rate of 30.77.
A property with an appraised value of $300,000 will have an assessed value of $210,000 will pay an additional $27 in taxes next year.
“The BOF worked very well, and very collaboratively on this budget,” said Leary. “Everybody spent a lot of time looking through numbers, thinking it through, asking questions, and the amount of teamwork and collaboration was wonderful in the face of the COVID-19 virus. We worked even harder, and in what I would call a completely nonpartisan way.”
BOF members Tony Morrison (R) and Joe Labieniec (R) both commented that they would prefer a 0% increase to the mill rate in the face of the uncertainty brought on by COVID-19. Both of them voted against the general government budget and the BOE budget.
“We are in unprecedented times due to the pandemic,” said Labieniec. “The most relevant piece to the conversation is the potential economic ramifications of this pandemic. The most important part is that they’re largely unknown at this point in time.”
Labieniec said, with so much uncertainty, he felt it was appropriate for the BOF to “provide certainty to Southington taxpayers that taxes will not go up next fiscal year.”
Morrison shared similar sentiments.
“We are in a time of great crisis due to COVID-19. We do not know how long the need for our version of ‘shelter in place’ will continue,” he said. “But, we do know that every day businesses in town are closing—as in Connecticut as a whole—businesses that may very well never open again. Folks are losing their jobs and their income on a daily basis.”
Morrison said he did not want to impose “anymore burdens on town residents and businesses.”
Democrat Sue Zoni stated that she initially felt a 0% increase was appropriate, but changed her thought process.
“Although I would love to have a 0% increase, I don’t believe we can hamstring our government that tightly,” she said prior to the vote.
Now that the BOF has passed the budget, it moves to the town council for review, changes if deemed necessary, and a vote. Once the council approves the budget, it will return to the BOF to declare the mill rate.
The total budget was broken down into six separate votes.
A motion was made to reduce $25,000 from the payroll MERS (municipal employee retirement system) account, $288,000 from the capital budget “widen, resurface and drainage” account, and $120,000 for medical insurance transfer to the self-insurance fund. That motion passed unanimously.
A motion was made to approve $58,076,942 for the general government budget. That motion passed 4-2 with Morrison and Labieniec voting against it.
A motion was made to approve $100,736,445 for the BOE. That motion passed 4-2 with Morrison and Labieniec voting against it.
A motion was made to improve year one of the five year capital improvement plan at $31,770,972. That motion passed 5-1 with Labieniec voting against it.
A motion was made to approve $258,643 for the animal control fund. That passed unanimously.
A motion was made to approve $5,552,800 for the sewer fund. That passed unanimously.
Now, the budget moves to the town council for final approval before the BOF officially sets the town’s mill rate. A public hearing is scheduled for April 27, at 7 p.m. The council vote is scheduled for May 11.