Town Council approves $138 million budget

By Steve Smith - Staff Writer
Glastonbury - posted Thu., Mar. 10, 2011
Susan Karp said the budget balances education wtih the tenor of the economy. Photos by Steve Smith.
Susan Karp said the budget balances education wtih the tenor of the economy. Photos by Steve Smith.

The Glastonbury Town Council approved a $138 million spending plan at its March 8 meeting, essentially reversing a proposed cut of $600,000 to the Board of Education budget.

The town’s Board of Finance had recommended the cut to the Board of Education's budget of $89 million – a 2.49-percent increase over the current year – but the council, after hearing that the state budget proposed by Gov. Dannel Malloy would keep the Economic Cost Sharing fund flat, seemed to indicate that would justify putting monies back into the education budget.

The Board of Education had reduced Superintendent Alan Bookman’s proposed budget by more than $1 million.

“I think it’s a responsible budget,” said Councilwoman Carol Ahlschlager. “It balances the Board of Ed's mission and objectives against a very stark economic reality and the challenges those present to all of our taxpayers.”

“I think they [Board of Education] put a great deal of time and effort into asking us for what they need,” said Council Chair Susan Karp. “I think their budget this year returns 16 teachers to classrooms.”

The town will receive approximately $885,000 in state grants, which is $675,000 more than was expected when the proposed budgets were first seen in January.

Town Manager Richard Johnson said the move would create the same effect as was previously planned – an increase of 1.35 percent to the mill rate.

At least one council member was critical of the cut in the first place.

“I think the $600,000 cut to the Board of Ed. budget was unwarranted by the Board of Finance,” said Councilwoman Michele Jacklin. “I didn't even follow the logic of it. It just seemed to be an arbitrary figure that they plucked out of the air.”

Jacklin said she would like to go one step further. Since the town is also losing a state manufacturing grant of about $200,000, she said the replacement of the $600,000 seems logical, and she’d like to see the other net $75,000 go toward the recommended $300,000 for the other post-employee benefit (OPEB) account.

Johnson clarified that the $675,000 in state funding is the net, and actually represents a decrease.

“In the aggregate, this year to next year, the state funding went down,” he said. “From this year to next year, what had changed since the annual town meeting was the reductions I'd anticipated were not as great.”

Councilman Whit Osgood supported the return of $600,000 to the schools, but thought the only caveat should be that the council urge the Board of Education to contribute to the OPEB account.

“I would suggest strongly... that the Board of Ed. seriously consider fully funding their OPEB commitments, starting this year, and going forward,” Osgood said.

Councilman Chip Beckett remained skeptical about any state funding.

“The $675,000 is fiction at this point,” he said. “It's a proposal, like there's a proposal for $1 billion in savings from state employees' healthcare pension and wages. It's fiction, based on the fact that it’s based on $1.5 billion in local tax increases. There are a whole bunch of things that have been thrown against the wall. Until June, or July, or September, we don't know what is going to stick.”

Beckett was also critical of the proposed increase in teaching positions, and suggested perhaps the Board of Finance did have the right idea.

“We cut a number of positions last year,” Beckett said. “We knew the high school was crowded. We cut a number of courses that were previously offered. They added two teachers, despite the fact that elementary [enrollments] are dropping by 50 students, because they’ve got a couple of classes in a couple of grades that are oversized. So, I think the real question is do we reallocate the $600,000 the Board of Ed. asked for, or do we follow the Board of Finance's thought – that the tax increases are beyond what the Glastonbury citizens’ ability to pay is?”

“Using your logic,” Jacklin said to Beckett, “this whole budget is a fiction, because frankly, we have no idea what the state is going to do. I agree with you entirely.”

“The budget we bring forth is not something that is all fiction,” said Councilwoman Marti Curtiss. “Our budgets are based on a lot of study and a lot of facts that we have in place when we make a suggestion to the taxpayers.”

Those taxpayers will have their opportunity to speak at the final budget hearing, which the council set for March 22.

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