Cheshire Town Manager Sean Kimball kicked off the budget adoption process on Tuesday, March 14, presenting to the Town Council and public an overview of his proposed $133,461,825 budget for the coming fiscal year.
If approved without alteration, it would mean an increase of $7,910,908 over the Fiscal Year ‘23 budget, or 6.3%. The number includes spending on education, general government, capital non-recurring costs, and a $125,000 contingency fund.
As far as the Town’s Capital Budget, Kimball envisions an outlay of $107,865,000 over five years, with grants and “available funds” of $9,488,000 offsetting that sum.
Kimball explained that he reduced the initial departmental requests by $2,795,000 before bringing this proposal to the Council. He also pointed out that the number was decreased by $131,976,000 from last year’s capital plan, which included the $166.6 million appropriation for the two new elementary schools—a part of the community’s first phase of school modernization.
In the operating budget for Fiscal Year ‘24, Kimball proposes two one-time expenditures: $300,000 for the Bulky Waste Collection Program, as recommended by the Solid Waste Committee, and $400,000 for the purchase of land located at 1180 Jarvis Rd., adjacent to the site of the planned north end elementary school.
The main drivers for the operating budget are education and general government. The Board of Education has asked for $85,358,121 for the fiscal year, an increase of $4,693,701 or 5.82%. Kimball is not recommending any additional cuts to that budget, which the BOE trimmed by $514,000 from Superintendent of Schools Jeff Solan’s initial request.
General government costs come in at $38,456,589, an increase of $2,598,414 or 7.25% over last fiscal year.
About a fifth of the General Government budget increase—$463,307—comes from recommended new hires, including a full-time Assistant Town Engineer, a position partially funded in the previous budget. “Also included are proposed new positions responding to growing needs in the community including a part-time building inspector and a mental health/substance abuse clinician,” per the presentation.
Kimball is suggesting a slight increase in building permit fees as one possible revenue stream. If approved, the increase in those fees could generate “conservatively” around $200,000 per year and help to fund the part-time building inspector position, Kimball explained.
Debt service represents a relatively minor portion of the budget—$8,022,115, an increase of $618,793 or 0.49% The increase is “primarily due to a reduction in offsetting Debt Service reserve usage in recent years.” However, Kimball acknowledged that “the Debt Service budget is set to more than double by (Fiscal Year) ‘26 as the impact from the Next Generation School Modernization approved construction of two new elementary school moves forward.”
There were areas where the budget asks for a decreased amount of funding as well.
“The Water Pollution Control Department Special Revenue Fund budget is recommended to decrease by $72,634,” due to agency reorganization. “On the revenue side, the proposed five-dollar WPCD sewer rate increase would generate approximately $54,570 in additional revenue,” per the presentation.
Other notable increases include increased pension costs for government workers. Kimball indicated that these increases are mainly mandated by actuarial standards. Implementing the enhanced pension plan for the volunteer fire fighters, at a projected cost of $245,328, received unanimous approval from the Council previously.
The Town’s Grand List grew by 2.25% or $66,643,445 over the year, per the presentation. That was second only to the prior year’s 3.03% growth, as the highest since 1998.
According to Town projections, a mill rate of 36.09 would be needed to fund the budget—a 5.16% increase over the current approved rate of 34.32 mills.
The Five-Year Capital Plan states that “priority was given to those projects that were included and discussed in prior year capital plans as it is critical to encourage long-term thinking and planning with capital initiatives as opposed to reactionary efforts or short-term solutions. Another key priority was to support those projects that will lead to downstream cost savings and return on investment.”
The capital budget features larger asks which will be the subject of departmental presentations and further discussion by the Council. For example, one item is a $2.2 million request from the Fire Department for two new fire trucks, delivery of which requires a 39-month lead time for the manufacturers. As Kimball pointed out, only items in Year One of the Plan are appropriated.
The proposed budget documents are available via the Town website. The Council will review Kimball’s budget over the next several weeks, with the first public hearing scheduled for March 22.