With the June retirement of veteran Town Manager Bill Smith, and in anticipation of the search for a new administrator, an exploratory committee of residents is proposing that Granby re-evaluate the opportunity to form a Granby Ethics Commission (GEC). It would address citizens’ concerns using the recommended structure outlined in the Connecticut General Statutes established by the state Ethics Commission. The neighboring towns of Suffield, Simsbury, Farmington, West Hartford and a number of others in Hartford County have such a committee.
While it is understood that the Town Manager, as an employee, has authority and control of Granby’s municipal departments and relative budgets, and reports to the elected officials of the Board of Selectman, there are areas where a concerned opinion or a “peoples’ voice” does not have consistent direct input other than the election of BOS members every two years. It has been established in other towns that when issues arise from the misuse of department budget funds, town equipment/services/maintenance materials, mid-contract period union hiring practices and, most importantly, access to information without resorting to a Freedom of Information process, an ethics commission offers an opportunity to voice such concerns. However, Granby does not have that option because we do not have an Ethics Commission.
Thus, we are asking all voting age residents of Granby to go to: www.granbytaxpayers.org and anonymously complete a survey, add comments and acquire contact information should you wish to do so. As taxpayers, we not only have the right to maintain vigilance in these areas, but it is our responsibility to do so as individuals, business owners, town residents and for our families and neighbors. Take a positive step to be involved to protect our mill rate and your pocketbook.
Submitted by The Granby Ethics
The application seeking a change of zone for a portion of properties located at 91 and 85R Salmon Brook Street was approved at the February 14 meeting of the Planning and Zoning Commission. Voting in favor of the change from Residential 30 (R30) to Planned Development Multifamily (PDM) were Paula Johnson, Jonathan Boardman, Christine Chinni, Charles Kraiza, Mark Lockwood and James Sansone. Margaret Chapple opposed.
The commission noted that the approval of the zone change is in compliance with the Granby’s Plan of Conservation and Development as it will help in diversifying the town’s housing base by providing a type of housing not currently available as well as providing alternative housing for seniors. The change will mean a positive impact on the town’s tax base. The change also will balance development with conservation, can provide support for existing and future businesses, can be completed without a negative impact on adjacent roadways and has adequate infrastructure that can support such use. The approval is in conformance with the regulation as the only permitted use in the PDM zone is single family residential.
Chairman Johnson recommended that the town consider having an independent review of the reports submitted for the future proposed application for 91 and 85R Salmon Brook Street, Upstream Properties LLC. She also noted that a working session with the developer prior to the application would be helpful.
The Commission voted (7-0-0) to approved a 90-day extension for the filing of the special permit and site plan mylar for property located at 4 East Granby Road. This was in response to a request from John Laudati.
An application subject to staff review for 356 Salmon Brook Street for a commercial building; in a C2 zone has been received.
By Shirley Murtha
At the February 6 Board of Selectmen meeting, Kent McCord and Barry Avery presented information on the Solarize CT Campaign, intended to encourage state residents to aid in energy conservation through the use of solar power. Along with David Desiderata, McCord and Avery are members of a subcommittee of the Conservation Commission assigned to do due diligence regarding this program. Attempts to interest residents in solar in the past have not resulted in much participation, but it is hoped that this time more people are aware of its benefits.
The marketing firm Smart Power will present workshops in the upcoming months to educate the community on not only the energy benefits, but also the financial benefits of federal and state tax incentives. At this time, eight solar companies are in the bidding to be the town’s supplier. The subcommittee had not yet made a decision on which company would be chosen but were confident that residents for whom solar is a good option would receive between a 10 and 20 percent discount on their choice of solar array.
The campaign began on Feb. 1 and will run for 18 weeks. Town Manager Bill Smith noted that the Solarize CT campaign is strictly residential and is partially funded by the state for both individual towns and groups of towns that may combine their applications. There will be no charge to residents who wish to have their property evaluated for potential solar use.
The board approved the Conservation Committee’s request for participation in the Solarize CT Campaign.
Budget Workshops to Commence
The following assignments were made for leadership of the upcoming budget workshops: Administration: First Selectman Scott Kuhnly; Personal and Property Protection: Mark Neumann; Public Works and Environment: Jim Lofink; Libraries, Recreation and Social Services: Sally King; Capital Budget and Debt Service: Ed Ohannessian.
Administration includes the town manager’s office, the probate court, registrars, tax collection, property assessment, finance management and community development. Personal and Property Protection involves building inspection, the fire and police departments, and health services. Capital Budget and Debt Service involve the town manager and finance officer. Libraries, Recreation and Social Services and Public Works are self-explanatory.
The town’s grand list has been completed and submitted to the state. It shows an increase of .61 percent, which will lead to approximately $200,000 in new revenue at the current mill rate.
Capital Lease Purchase Program
Once again, Simsbury Bank has given the town the best rate for funding purchases in the Capital Lease Program. The town will receive $685,731 to be paid back over five years for the purchase of a backhoe, a large heavy-duty dump truck and technology for the Board of Education. Additionally, a loan of $211,000 to be paid back over three years will fund BOE one-on-one computing equipment.
Grant Application Approvals
The board approved grant applications for the Recycling Rewards Program and the Neglected Cemetery Grant. The recycling grant would be used for educational materials regarding the recycling program that the town participates in through Paine’s. It has been a while since the benefits of recycling have been emphasized so town-wide communication is needed.
The center cemetery is far from neglected, but the grant would provide $2,000 for use in repairing fences and markers as well as general maintenance of the property.
Resignations and Appointments
The board approved the nomination of Cheri Berggren to the Library Board. Berggren fills the seat of retired member Judy Goff, who was thanked for her many years of service on the board.
The following vacancies exist: one on the Conservation Commission and one on the Park and Recreation Board. If you are interested in serving on either of these, contact Democratic Town Committee chairman Jim Lofink (860-810-0274) or Republican Town Committee Chairman Mark Neumann (860-978-4808).
By Shirley Murtha
The annual Three Board Meeting took place on January 23, 2017, following a review by Blum Shapiro CPA Nikoleta McTigue of the three annual Town of Granby financial reports: the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report, the State Single Audit Report, and the Federal Single Audit Report. Each covers the fiscal year from July 1 to June 30. McTigue noted that all was in order and that the town, as always, was cooperative and helpful in allowing her access to the necessary materials.
First Selectman Scott Kuhnly began the Three Board Meeting by explaining the “Plus-One Budget” process that was adopted several years ago by the boards of selectmen, finance and education. The three boards meet in December to review ongoing needs. Once these needs are reviewed, a preliminary guideline is given to the boards from the Board of Finance. A final guideline is adopted in February when more detailed revenue and expenditure information is available.
The town manager develops the budget in order to sustain town operations, including employee wages, salaries and benefits and the services that residents expect. As usual, the town manager will meet with all department heads and hold workshops for public questions and comments.
Kuhnly pointed out that the implementation of state mandates continues to challenge the budget process, as meeting the mandates supersedes local authority. Unfortunately, many of these mandates are put in place without a proper cost analysis. He cited the recent realignment of the probate system and the current attempt to combine health districts as examples.
Town Manager Bill Smith distributed copies of his Plus-One Budget and commented on some pertinent features. Wages, salaries and benefits show an increase of 3 percent over the current budget, whereas insurance costs show a 6 percent increase. Yet unknown are expected increases in materials and equipment. As reported in the February Drummer BOS report, Smith hopes to be able to reinstate a police officer and a public works employee and to restore cutbacks in library service.
As presented on January 23, Smith’s Plus-One budget requires $445,400 over the current year (a 4.3 percent increase). If the add-backs are included, the cost is $524,300 (5.1 percent) increase over the current operating budget.
Board of Education Chairman Ron Walther presented Superintendent Alan Addley’s Plus-One budget, noting that the first year of operating budget projections is typically the most accurate; the farther out you go, the more needs and requirements may change. The BOE’s Plus-One budget for the next five years supports the board’s long-term goals while recognizing the economy’s slow recovery, and dropping enrollment. Over the past eight years, the operating budgets have had an average increase of 1 percent.
Some highlights from the BOE Plus-One include five teacher retirements, a 4.2 percent increase in health benefits, the need for three new buses, and a large increase in special education tuition, transportation and additional assistants. The final result is a 2.94 percent increase over the current budget. More details on the BOE budget were reported in the February Drummer.
Board of Finance Chairman Mike Guarco concluded the meeting by saying that we must recognize the challenges facing the towns. The state is in financial trouble and our resources are in jeopardy. Unfortunately, those resources are a very important piece in attempting to formulate our budget. He hopes that the BOE can keep to a 2 percent increase and that the municipal budget can come in at 2.5 percent.
Editor’s note: Copies of the preliminary Plus-One budgets can be seen in the Town Hall and Board of Education offices.
By Michael B. Guarco, Jr.,
Chair, Board of Finance
In early February, the governor sent his biennial budget proposal to the legislature. Facing a $1.7 billion dollar gap in each of the next two years—even after the historically massive tax increases over the past four years—his proposal shifts a significant burden onto the towns. While closing the state budget gap and bailing out the cities, the change hurts the towns financially and is influenced by the belief that the towns are fiscally stronger and can handle it. While this is basically true, a primary reason is that the towns are more efficiently managed. In the long run, this Robin Hood approach won’t solve the problems of the state government—or of the cities—if they don’t tackle their own cost drivers within their own budgets. If they do not, the same gaps will again reappear in another two years. Frankly, it is quite unsustainable.
The impact on state revenues to Granby is similar to so many other Connecticut towns. The net impact between various changes in revenue categories, as well as shifting a portion of an existing state pension obligation for teachers, would require a property tax rate increase of some 7-plus percent with a flat budget of no increase in expenditures at all. The initial operating budget requests from the municipal and education administrations would add another 2.5 percent to the mill rate change. Thus, the total budget package, assuming the governor’s proposal as well as those of the superintendent and town manager, would drive an overall property tax rate hike of 10 percent.
A charge of the Board of Finance is to manage the preparation and submittal for public approval of a combined town budget intended to meet the needs of the people of Granby at a reasonable cost to ourselves as taxpayers. The paragraph above lays out the challenges we face in doing so. Traditionally, the revenue picture provided by the governor’s budget has been a fairly reliable, if not conservative, indicator of what the final state budget package enacted by the legislature ends up providing the towns in terms of revenue. In this case, we feel that while the full impact of his proposal will not materialize, we probably will still end up with less from the state. That said, even with a flat local budget we can face a significant mill rate challenge caused solely by the impact of reduced net revenues from the state budget.
In my 35 years serving on Granby’s Board of Finance, I’ve never seen state government in such a fiscal mess that is getting worse. It cannot keep raising taxes without seeing the results of the last few years of fleeing taxpayers and businesses. Shifting the burden to the towns won’t work either and is counterproductive in many ways. Those who pay state taxes also pay town property taxes. The state has to tackle its own inherent cost drivers. The towns face similar issues but do better than the state and cities. The board of finance has already indicated the need for even tighter operating budget proposals submitted by the end of March. At zero percentage increase in spending, we still would face a major mill rate increase of 7-plus percent if the governor’s budget was to hold. But given the state’s problems, it is prudent to assume there will be some level of net revenue reduction from the state. Most likely that means a fairly flat budget with a property tax rate change more than in the last few years, but in the end, far less than the worst case scenario that would assume the full impact of the governor’s budget on our finances.
The Planning and Zoning Commission held a public hearing on a resubmitted application seeking a change of zone from Residential 30 (R30) to Planned Development Multifamily (PDM) for properties located at 91 and 85R Salmon Brook Street. The proposal was unchanged from a previous application. Brian Smith, Attorney with Robinson and Cole, represented Upstream Properties, LLC. Smith used a PowerPoint presentation to review maps and the Plan of Conservation and Development objectives and goals related to rental units, walkable neighborhoods, housing opportunities for the elderly, natural gas, connection to the YMCA and restaurants and providing housing diversity. He noted this property is uniquely suited to the Plan of Conservation and Development’s goals and objectives.
Mark Arigoni, Landscape Architect at Milone and MacBroom, discussed the proposed site layout, wetland areas and the natural diversity database. He discussed the specific zone change area and also the scope of the entire project that includes five apartment buildings. An environmental Phase 1 on the property, a complete boundary survey and a new topographic survey have been completed. Access to the site would be opposite Floydville Road, just south of the Peppermill Deli, which will remain with parking shifting to the north of the building. Large trees off of Salmon Brook Street will be preserved. Maps of the overall proposal and the specific area of the proposed zone change were displayed. The five apartment buildings will each have 26 units. The proposed homes are expected to contain 1,700 to 2,200 square feet with two-car garages. The locations of the clubhouse, pool and roadway, buffer areas, the proposed traffic light were discussed, as were emergency access, deed restrictions, maintenance and more.
Richard Mancuso, Upstream Properties LLC, discussed the design and style of the homes and apartments. The homes are not age-restricted but are designed with the master bedroom on the first floor. The apartments are anticipated to be three stories with elevators. Fifty percent of the units will be one-bedroom. He reviewed the projected number of school children in the overall complex compared to similar complexes in neighboring towns. He discussed the project density compared to other Granby housing developments and noted the projected tax increase for the town.
Attorney Smith concluded with a distinction between the R30 and PDM zone, noting that the R30 zone allows many uses other than residential. He pointed out reasons that the Development Commission noted in its recommendation of approval. He believes that the project will help to improve and beautify the area as well as have a positive influence on the tax base.
Commission members asked Armentano about the permitted uses in the PDM zone. He explained that the permitted use in both zones is single-family residential and that there are a variety of uses allowed by special permit, which differ for each zone. He noted that the special permit uses in the PDM zone are limited to residential uses. Questions were also asked about the apartment building design and buffering of the development from the existing neighborhood.
During the public comment session, many residents spoke in opposition to the development. They expressed concerns for wildlife and endangered species, large apartments, density, wetlands, the town’s rural nature, crime, the number of school children, the cost of town services, the Plan of Conservation and Development and the overall nature of the town. Residents spoke of a need for an independent study and asked that the town consider purchasing the land. Residents felt that since the commission voted against the application previously, it shouldn’t reconsider that action.
Members of the public also spoke in favor of the zone change, stating reasons such as consistency with the 10-year plan, housing diversification, quality of the design, impact on the tax base and surrounding businesses.
The commission approved the zoning change at its Feb. 14 meeting.
By Kim Becker
Governor Malloy, in an effort to revive the sinking teachers’ pension fund, has proposed that school districts statewide contribute $400 million to the State. Granby’s share amounts to $1.5 million plus the loss of $224,000 from other grants. The board of finance reacted to this news by demanding that the boards of selectmen and education keep their budgets flat, resulting in a 3 percent mill rate increase. If the governor’s proposal is adopted and the boards receive budget increases, the mill rate could increase as much as 7 percent.
Superintendent Alan Addley and the Board of Education expressed dismay at the proposal and the BOF’s reaction. Addley made it clear that with contractual and legal obligations the budget must increase by 1.9 percent; with the updates in the Plus One budget, such as the football stipend, nursing support, a kindergarten teacher and the Eureka math program, the district’s budget would increase 2.66 percent.
Addley also painted a dire picture if the district is forced to pay the State $1.5 million. The district certainly would not be able to move forward with educational programs as such Eureka math and staffing “recalibrations” such as nursing support. However, to get to a zero percent increase, the district budget would need to be cut another $540,000. To emphasize the scope of such a cut, Addley said he would need to eliminate the athletic program entirely or the music program districtwide or World Languages in grades K-12. Board members expressed concern with “moving backward” if the BOF holds to a zero percent increase.
Apparently, most people don’t believe Malloy’s plan will come to fruition. Both Addley and BOE Chairman Ron Walther said that the consensus from other towns was to budget as usual, making no drastic cuts anticipating a large payment to the State. Addley said he spoke with legislators who believe the Governor’s proposal will not be adopted. Most board members accepted this view and supported Addley submitting a budget with a 1.9 percent increase with room for adjustment as the budget process proceeds next month. Steven Royer was the only holdout from this perspective stating that he felt that the BOF’s guideline was clear and should be followed.
Though the state’s budget woes are well-known, the teachers’ pension fund has been an issue for decades. While teachers have paid in their share since the fund began, the state has never fully funded its portion. As a result, the State shows a large liability on its balance sheet and is seeking to mitigate possible damage to the state’s credit rating by having districts pay its share of the fund. Because $400 million won’t rectify the problem, districts theoretically could have this payment each year, limiting their ability to provide mandated services.
Senators John Kissel and Kevin Witkos and Representative Bill Simanski provided their annual legislative update for the Board of Education. “Regionalization” was the biggest buzzword this session. With 200 school districts in Connecticut, some serving a very small number of students, the legislators were very interested in districts regionalizing services, particularly in the area of special education.
Bill Simanski strongly supported changes to the existing special education system. First, creating “centers of excellence” for children with special needs to save districts service duplication and therefore education dollars. Second, he wants to shift the burden of proof in special education cases from schools alone to equal proof with parents. This would alleviate some costs from districts as they negotiate with parents about services for children with special needs.
Kevin Witkos agreed that regionalizing services particularly in the special needs area is desirable as is shifting the shifting the burden of proof. He also thinks that centers of excellence for special needs children may offer districts funding predictability. As special education plays a large role in district budgets, managing those costs could be very helpful to boards of education.
Witkos also mentioned that the legislators’ education committee has 400 bills to review. While it is unlikely the committee will get through all of them, he suggested that members of the public testify in person to share their stories about bills which will affect them. He encouraged those wishing to testify to call his office to make the process easier.
John Kissel did not fully share his colleagues opinions on changes to special education. As a former teacher, he believes in mainstreaming children with special needs and creating school communities that embrace differences. The centers of excellence would not follow this model. He also expressed concern for parents regarding the burden of proof issue, while understanding the financial predicament for districts.
The Granby Board of Education received the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education (CABE) Board of Distinction Award - Level II at the CABE/Convention in November. The award was given for exhibiting a unique ability to work collaboratively and supportively with the community and town officials in a non-partisan fashion as strong advocates for students and education. In addition, the board was also recognized for its successful completion of district building projects, high return on educational investment, annually adopted budgets and policy advocacy. The Level II award is the highest honor awarded by CABE in recognition of local boards of education.
By Shirley Murtha
As the town prepared for the annual Three Board Meeting (Education, Finance and Selectmen) on Jan. 23, Town Manager Bill Smith noted that with the state budget in deficit, aid to towns will be greatly curtailed. For example, mid-2016 saw $50,000 worth of cuts to the Educational Cost Sharing program. Similar cuts will be seen across the board; towns will have to make up the differences by increasing local taxes and/or by cutting services.
In preparing for the development of the Plus One budget, Smith and his staff calculate preliminary estimates based on contractual mandates and anticipated staffing needs. There are increased costs in all departments. Of particular concern, noted Smith, is that there is not adequate staff to handle the state mandates. For example, Kerry Ann Kielbasa’s retirement has left the town without a full time replacement in human resources.
In attempting to stay within last year’s budget guidelines, the town budgeted $74,000 for road salt. As of Jan. 17, town roads had been treated 12 times, at a cost of $77,000. A transfer of funds will be necessary to obtain the material needed to adequately treat the roads for the remainder of the winter season.
Other items of concern include the $50,000 in costs to keep the closed Kearns School from degradation, needed storm water work, and upgrading technology, especially with the Board of Education. In addition, Smith continues to hope for some add backs, including needed staffing in the police and public works departments and a restoration of library services that were cut in the 2009-10 budget. Because the state is fiscally unsound, grants for these and other projects will be adversely affected.
Public Hearing on Storm Water
Public hearings on the Storm Water Illicit Discharge and Connections Ordinance were held prior to the regular BOS meetings in November. The proposed ordinance will provide for the health and safety of Granby residents, and is in compliance with a state mandate issued by the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Agency.
Although more important in communities that have a lot of discharge from industry, it also covers the normal storm water run-off in residential areas, which involves every catch basin in town.
Director of Community Development Fran Armentano worked with Public Works Director Kirk Severance, Town Engineer Kevin Clark, the Conservation Commission and the Inland Wetlands and Watercourses Commission to determine how to best regulate this issue. One way is to educate residents on what they can do to keep storm water as clean as possible. Selectman Lofink noted that the University of Connecticut has a site related to this issue.
Upstream Properties Presentation
Upstream Properties presented an overview of its proposed housing development on Salmon Brook Street to the board at its Jan. 17 meeting in preparation for an eventual request for sewer allocation and access easements. Many residents attended the meeting, some to speak against the development, some to speak in favor of it, and others impartial but asking that the town further study the impact of such a development. Fran Armentano closed the session by presenting the viewpoint of the Development Commission (see his opinion piece on p. 3 of this issue of the Drummer.)
Annual Report of FVHD
Jennifer Kertanis presented an annual review of the Farmington Valley Health District to the board at its Nov. 21 meeting. The agency consists of 10 towns and has a staff of 12. Pat Chieski and Diane Hernsdorf are the Granby representatives. The agency is responsible for monitoring the health status of the community with regard to food establishments, salons, septic and well water. It tracks infectious diseases, and educates for disease prevention and also establishes protocol preparations for large scale emergencies. A large part of its work is to enforce the Connecticut General Statutes regarding health as well as the Public Health Code.
This year, graduate public health students from Yale helped the agency complete the first phase of a community health assessment that will serve as a planning document for public health programs and services. Chronic disease and diseases associated with aging were at the forefront for the Granby community.
Another concern for our community this past year was the ongoing drought. Ten wells in Granby were adversely affected and private well owners are encouraged to conserve water. There will be more problems if the drought continues.
During 2016, the agency established Resilience Grows Here, a program focused on the needs of veterans and their families. The program goals center around reducing veteran isolation, recognition of post traumatic stress and increasing access to programs.
The state Commissioner of Public Health has introduced the concept of further regionalizing the local health districts. There are 20 districts at present, and 73 individual as cities have their own. So far, the proposal remains in the discussion stage.
Resignations and Appointments
The board regretfully accepted the resignation of Town Treasurer Roger Hernsdorf and expressed appreciation for the job he has done. John Adams was sworn in as the new treasurer in December.
Chris Roughton has resigned as an alternate to the Zoning Board of Appeals and Abby Roughton has resigned from the Parks and Recreation Board.
Kent McCord was appointed to fill the vacancy on the Conservation Commission and Phil Main was appointed to the Commission on Aging. The following re-appointments were approved: Kathryn Miller and Patricia Sansone, Commission on Aging; Matt Brady, Conservation Commission; Kathy Ungerleider and Suzanne Yucha, Parks and Recreation Board; Ellen Whitlow, Agricultural Commission and James Caldwell, Development Commission.
First Selectman Scott Kuhnly expressed thanks to the Parks and Recreation staff for producing the annual holiday tree-lighting program, including singers, refreshments and Santa. He also noted that Town Assessor Susan Altieri has again received the Continuing Service Award from the state.
At the Jan. 17 meeting, the School Buildings Committee was recognized for its outstanding work in overseeing the renovation of the Kelly Lane and Wells Road schools needed due to the closing of Kearns.
Robert Fetzer spoke to the board regarding what he believes are wasteful practices with regard to the town’s vehicle purchases. He noted that the personal use of such vehicles represents a lack of respect for the town’s assets.
Susan Regan asked that the public be kept informed of the number of candidates being considered for the town manager position. She also believes residents should have access to each candidate’s resume, credentials, potential salary and benefits.
Bill Regan presented figures outlining the expenses of operating the town’s transfer station, his calculations resulting in a cost of $85,000. He noted that the Town of Simsbury’s transfer station is managed by Paine’s at no cost to the town. He suggested that Granby contract out the management of our transfer station to save considerable money.
Michael B Guarco Jr., Chairman, Board of Finance
Once again Connecticut faces a $1.5 billion deficit in each of the next two fiscal years. How it is handled with respect to state aid monies allocated to the municipalities will have a significant impact on local operations and taxation. The reluctance on the part of the state to tackle real structural budget reform continues to just kick the can down the road. Every two years, the state legislature’s majority party leadership and the governor cobble together a two-year budget that, in recent years, has included the largest state tax increases ever. They find themselves two years out facing the same major budget gap again and again. Earlier this month, the governor warned of the potential for a reduction in state aid overall to the municipalities. In particular, he spoke of his desire to focus on the needs of the cities, which most likely means cutting the towns.
On the first Wednesday in February his proposed budget will be delivered to the capitol. The legislature will wrangle over it and their own ideas through the following two months and by mid-April should have their own version reported out of committee. If agreed upon, it may be finalized and voted upon sometime in May. In the meantime, Granby town boards have begun the local budget processes leading up to the budget public hearing April 10 and a machine vote April 24. The uncertainty at the state level leads to the same at the local level. This is potentially significant in forcing either local expenditure restraint or the need for higher property taxes—or both simultaneously.
In late January the three boards meet to begin discussion on the upcoming FY18 budget process. The boards of selectmen, education, and finance share their thinking on what may be requested for the upcoming fiscal year that begins on July 1 and how to deal with the associated costs. Several months ago, the board of finance signaled that, given the impact of anticipated cost changes, its preference would be that the FY18 spending plan have a modest change in the 2 percent range overall while keeping the mill rate increase itself below that.
Many factors affect the expenditure budgets as well as the sources of revenue used to cover them. Roughly three-quarters of the two operating budgets are the cost of people—salaries and benefits. Other cost drivers are the insurances the town must maintain, energy costs, and new state and federal rules and mandates. Some factors, such as declining enrollment, can act to help flatten costs while others, such as special education requirements, can swing up or down. Two significant revenue items were wild cards last year—and will be this year. They have to do with the governor’s proposal to force a flat-tax rate on autos statewide instead of varying the rate by town as it does for property. In our case, the flat-tax rate was to be offset by other revenue sharing accounts. If and when this program is put in place, the trick will be to see if the replacement revenue from the state is left intact, or gradually taken away over time by the state as is usually the case.
The revenue side of the equation is fairly static. The expenditure side of the equation is driven by the increases associated with compensation and vendor contracts that reflect changes within their own cost environments. The concern about state money to the town is pervasive. At the local level, the revenues raised via fees through town hall are a minor component of the budget and essentially flat. Over the past decade the grand list has shown a very modest average of about 0.5-0.6 percent in annual growth, hence the need for a modest annual adjustment in the mill rate to balance out and cover the expenditure side. Over the past decade the commercial component of the grand list has slipped from about 8 percent to less than 7 percent. Gone are the days of an average of 50-60 new homes a year. The apartments being built behind Stop and Shop will bump it up a bit, as would the 34 or so planned housing unit development being talked about in the town center if approved. Another significant addition to the grand list being talked about is for the area across from Floydville Road between Salmon Brook Street and Canton Road. Between the building and autos, the tax impact has been estimated at roughly $1.1 million annually upon completion – the equivalent of 3 percent in property tax. Discussion ensues over what cost impact may come with it, the major component being kids in the school system. However, given the declining enrollment, there is space now after closing a school. Current projections show the district will lose more students over the next half dozen years. If that trend continues, this town may be faced with a situation that it could fit all of our K-5 grades within one of our two lower level grade schools a decade or so from now.
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