By Shirley Murtha
The 2016-17 Granby budget process began with public reports by the boards of selectmen, education and finance at the annual three-board meeting, held on Jan. 25. After thanking the members and staffs of all the boards for their diligent efforts to try to keep increases at a minimum, First Selectman Scott Kuhnly introduced Ron Walther, chairman of the Board of Education, who presented that board’s preliminary budget.
Walther said that after much deliberation, the board had settled on a zero percent increase budget. The closing of Kearns school has led residents to expect a decrease in the cost of running the district’s educational system, in spite of rising costs in all areas, including materials and maintenance. The BOE budget reflects the loss of about 12 full-time teachers and the addition of about six in kindergarten, special education, reading and after-school assistance.
Kuhnly then presented the BOS plus-one budget. The minimal requirements for existing town operational needs in 2016-17 is $392,900. Three add-back items were introduced, bringing the total to $471,300, an increase over the present budget to 4.69 percent.
Since that time, however, three additional items have been included: adding $30,000 for maintenance of the soon-to-be-closed Kearns School, adding funds to the Lost Acres Fire Department (they are requesting $70,000—see p. 6), and a reduction of $30,000 in existing health benefits.
BOF Chairman Mike Guarco noted that most of the $900,000 saved as a result of closing Kearns School will be used to renovate Kelly Lane as a primary school. The town will see the savings starting with the 2017-18 fiscal year. Without knowing the governor’s cuts in the state budget at the time of this three-board meeting, Guarco said it was not possible to say exactly what state aid will be. Members of the BOF will attend the BOS workshops to determine where the challenges are located.
Following the presentations, comments from the public were received. Superintendent of Schools Alan Addley noted that the BOE must preserve the quality of the educational system despite the increasing costs of maintaining the infrastructure and the continually escalating rates of the teacher contracts. Town Manager William Smith remarked that town services and facilities are in good shape, but by continually holding the line, a decline in quality is inevitable. BOE member Jenny Emery commended the school system, noting that Granby’s cost per pupil is one of the lowest in the state and yet it gets high scores on the standardized tests.
Prior to the close of the meeting, Kuhnly presented the final report of the intra-board advisory committee, and the board endorsed a memo of understanding. The IBAC was formed by the BOS in May 2014, to “explore opportunities and methods to improve town and BOE services.” Committee members were Ed Ohannessian from the BOS, Jenny Emery from the BOE, Kelly Rome from the BOF, Walther and Kuhnly. The superintendent and town manager sat in, as well.
The committee agreed that there already existed a great deal of intra-board communication, and that the continuance and/or increase of this would be best served by institutionalizing the town and BOE commitment for such. Thus arose the memo of understanding that states:
“1. Beneficial coordination and collaboration among staff and resources of the town and BOE shall be a priority in all operations, and the BOS and BOE will hold the Town Manager and Superintendent, respectively, accountable for continually identifying and implementing such opportunities.
“2. Integration of Town and BOE functions shall be given rigorous consideration whenever organizational realignment opportunities arise, such as significant turnover at the management or staff level, new technology systems are required, or when new or revised programs or services are to be implemented.
“3. In its role as the finance and taxation body of the Town, the BOF will encourage and support proposals designed to achieve coordination, collaboration or integration of operations.
“4. The evaluation of opportunities for coordinating, collaborating or integrating should include: short- and long-range economic efficiency, improved resiliency of operations (to include risk) and increased service levels to the community.
“5. The Town Manager and School Superintendent will provide an annual update on activities that support the spirit of this document to all three boards.”