The Town Council concluded the last of seven budget workshops examining department spending requests last Thursday, and will now begin considering changes to the $121,577,417 proposed spending plan.
“The goal, as always, is to try to see what we can do about keeping the mill rate as reasonable and as low as it needs to be to provide a level of services that our residents have come to expect. We hope to find continued ways to be more efficient, continued ways to combine areas if needed,” Council Budget Committee Chairman David Borowy said.
The proposed budget would increase Town spending by $5.3 million over the current year, a 4.57% increase. Both municipal and education spending are increasing by just over 5%, however that’s slightly offset by a $276,330 reduction in the town’s debt payments.
Based on revenue projections, Town Manager Sean Kimball estimated the mill rate would have to increase by 1.9 mills to 35.12 mills, a 5.7% tax increase.
“The increase on the average taxpayer with two vehicles — two average vehicles — comes to a $439 increase year over year,” Kimball said during Thursday’s meeting.
Much of the increase is due to keeping spending down last year to avoid a tax increase during the pandemic. The Town didn’t fill a handful of open positions, including Town Assessor, a police officer and some summer maintenance workers. The Town was also able to push off the cost of some contractual salary increases.
Salary and wage increases makes up $339,670 of the proposed budget, while restoring the vacant positions will cost $274,814. The budget also includes $359,671 to cover expected increases in retirement and pension costs and anticipates medical insurance costs rising $240,659.
The revenue side of the budget also impacts the increase, with state aid staying flat compared to last year and Kimball pushing for less use of the Town’s reserve funds.
The Town Council has gone through all operational budgets, but will examine the capital spending requests.
The proposed capital spending, which is included in the nearly $122 million budget, amounts to $14,170,000, up from $9,060,000 last year. It includes funding for the first phase of expanding Bartlem Recreation Area onto the adjacent Chapman Property, school as well as public works projects.
The Council will also be weighing whether to extend the deadline to pass a budget, a move permitted under an executive order Gov. Ned Lamont issued last week. The Town’s charter calls for the budget to be complete by April 30, however, the executive order allows for towns to submit budgets as late as the end of June.
In a letter read during the meeting, resident Heather Fitzgerald supported the Bartlem Park expansion, the first phase of which will cost $5,945,000.
“During the pandemic, I think we’ve all realized the importance of quality outdoor space and this will provide exactly that for generations to come. I also believe it will help attract new homebuyers looking for the right town where they can raise their families, which helps our local economy and serves to keep us ranked as a best place to live,” she wrote.