Preliminary BOE and BOS budgets exceed Finance goals
By Shirley Murtha
Fiscal year 2015 Plus-One budgets for the Board of Education and the Board of Selectmen presented at the annual three-board meeting on January 21 far exceeded the goals as set by the Board of Finance. Speaking for the BOE, Chairman Ron Walther remarked that the board knows its 3.7 percent increase is high, but that it is the board’s job to advocate for the school system, adding necessary staff and dealing with unfunded state mandates. When making the budget, much was still unknown regarding expenses. For example, some savings is expected due to the conversion to gas heating fuel, but how much is yet to be determined.
The 4.32 percent increase budget presented by First Selectman Scott Kuhnly, represents what is needed to maintain town services at the current level, according to the BOS. Wages and benefits alone require a 3 percent increase. Among other expenses, a new town attorney must be hired and the retainer will be considerably more than currently paid.
The BOS also wishes to hire a youth services officer, restore some library hours and hire a part-time public works person because of maintenance with the addition of the Holcomb Farm property, the upgraded Cossitt Library property and the new building in Salmon Brook Park. Adding these items to the budget creates a 4.82 percent increase.
BOF Chairman Mike Guarco reiterated that the board strongly urges keeping a tight budget so the mill rate increase won’t exceed 2 percent. BOF member Gordon Bischoff wondered why the BOE expenses were coming in so high when there is an enrollment decrease, perhaps as much as 25 percent over the next decade, resulting in talk of a possible school closure. Bischoff and others noted that this is just the beginning of the process and more information is needed.
The three-board meeting always takes place prior to the state’s announcement of funding towns will receive. That report was available to the BOF on February 6, after which the boards re-examined their budgets. Guarco said the BOF would study what has happened with past budgets and project the impact of the proposed budgets on the future.