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Town Manager reviews 2015-16 budget proposal
By Shirley Murtha
Town Manager William Smith reviewed the 2015-16 proposed budget at the March 2 Board of Selectmen meeting. The Town Operation section of $10,155,668 represented a 3.49 percent increase, which was above what the Board of Finance suggested. Although hoping to maintain services to the town as they are now, Smith prepared a reduction list, places where the budget could be cut to approach a 2.5 percent suggested by some members of the BOF. Most of these reductions are classified as "moderate" risk (having budget implications requiring additional funds) or "low" risk (not having budget impact for 2015-16.) Examples of moderate risk reductions are the understaffing of public works, especially with regard to Salmon Brook Park and Holcomb Farm hours; raising administration staff insurance deductibles; and limiting the purchase of new and replacement books in the libraries. Examples of low impact items would be cutbacks on recreation staff attending professional conferences and reduced property assessment and building inspection office hours. While generally avoiding high risk items (those that would impact public safety for example) there would be some serious impact on the ability of public works to obtain adequate road salt and maintain equipment.
Highlighting items in the Budget Report, Smith noted that schools account for 66 percent of the budget, municipal services 23 percent and debt services 11 percent. These all have increases over the current fiscal year, whereas, except for a minor uptick in the current year, the grand list has not recovered from a decline begun in 2012.
As with every budget, the current proposal is based on several long-standing goals: to continue to maintain or increase the effectiveness of town services, to hold the line with the number of full-time and part-time employees, and to meet payments for debt service by budgeting from the town's capital reserve set-aside fund. Other objectives include paying by cash for capital expenditures when deemed appropriate, updating the town's long-range operating and capital forecast models so as to better predict mill rate impact, and to budget revenue sources reasonably, putting in place competitive user fees to fund non-mandatory services.
Meeting these goals is challenging, given that Granby is a rural residential town with very little industry. As stated in the Budget Report, the identifiable brand that makes Granby a special place "did not happen overnight or by accident; it is a product of much thought established by the deliberate efforts and actions of Granby's citizens and its elected town officials." At this point, 9,000 of Granby's acres are permanently preserved as open space, never to be developed. In addition to the town's excellent school system, this commitment to preserving land for wildlife and recreation is a major factor attracting people to Granby.
At the BOS meeting on March 16, Smith reported that working with the various department heads during the budget workshops and utilizing the reduction list described above, the town was able to reduce the budget to 2.5 percent. This will in turn keep the mill rate increase at close to 2 percent. The selectmen approved sending this budget, containing an operating budget of $10,058,968 to the BOF on March 30.
There is some cause for concern regarding the public works cuts that were made in order to reach the 2.5 percent. Selectman King noted that the cuts may prove to be more expensive in the long run than adequately funding it up front. Selectman Desrosiers agreed, adding that he hoped the BOF will find a way to help restore some of the higher risk items that involve general maintenance. Smith remarked that money from areas where the town needs less than what was budgeted can be transferred to areas that need additional funds. This may be necessary in public works for general and infrastructure maintenance due to this harsh and prolonged winter season.
Grant Application Approvals
The board approved application for an $18,000 Justice Assistance Grant that will fund the placement of video cameras in two police vehicles and the server for their operation. Among other benefits, these cameras can supply supporting evidence for prosecution of vehicular crimes.
The board approved application for a $28,641 Department of Transportation grant to continue providing transport for seniors who need to get to medical appointments, go grocery shopping, or attend events at the Senior/Youth Center. The town has been getting this grant since 2006; transport has been averaging 26,000 to 27,000 miles annually. The grant is matched by an equal $28,641 from the town budget, along with the costs of maintenance and fuel.
Senior Center Programs
The board approved application for a $5,500 Older Americans Act Grant for programs at the Senior Center, including the grandparents support group, the civic engagement team, and, new this year, the Healthy Minds (counseling) program. Granby has been receiving this grant since 2001. This is also a 50 percent matching grant.
Emergency shelter station at GMMS
The board approved application for a $267,000 FEMA grant to purchase and install a generator at the middle school for town-wide emergency use instead of the Senior/Youth Center, as was the case during the October 2011 storm. The grant covers 75 percent of the cost. The town also needs $39,000 to upgrade the wiring at the middle school and construct housing for the generator.
Elderly Housing Improvements
The board approved adopting a resolution to apply for as much as $800,000 from the Connecticut Department of Housing for a Small Cities Community Development Block Grant to make improvements at the Salmon Brook Elderly Housing Complex.
As of the end of February, 100 percent of taxes have been collected and $112,500 has been received from the state's special education excess fund.
The following residents were re-appointed to their various boards and commissions: John O'Brien, Agricultural Commission; Karen Hood, Commission on Aging; James Caldwell and Rob Rome, Development Commission; Carol Bressor and Judy Guarco, Library Board; Brigid Gunn, Park and Recreation Board.
The following residents are newly appointed: Steve Muller to the Conservation Commission and Michael Ortengren to the Commission on Aging.