Council trims fat from budget for second referendum
By Steve Smith - Staff Writer
Tolland - posted Fri., May. 6, 2011
After a majority of voters opposed a $51 million budget at referendum on May 3, the Town Council acted quickly to make cuts that would bring the mill rate down to the 29.99 mills, which was in line with the budget proposed by Town Manager Steve Werbner.
A total of exactly 1,500 were in favor of the spending plan – which would have been an increase of 3.49 percent – while 1,867 were opposed. The voter turnout was 36.84 percent of the town's registered voters.
The rejected plan would have set the mill rate at 30.28 mills.
At a May 3 special meeting, Council Chair Frederick Daniels said the council had to “get going right now,” in order to have time for the required legal notice of the next referendum May 17.
The Town Council voted to cut $230,000 from the Board of Education's budget, reducing it to $34.91 million.
The Board of Education budget had also realized about $85,000 in savings from employees that have switched to a home-savings account (HSA) healthcare plan. Officials said that savings could become higher, as more employees change plans. That $85,000 had not yet been allocated, so the net impact would be $145,000 less for the school budget.
The new budget proposal includes no changes to the town side of the budget at $10.81 million, and no change to debt service of $4.75 million.
Daniels said his feeling was that the Board of Education still needed to be “properly funded.”
“I feel that we need to protect the board's budget, and the town side of the budget as much as is reasonably possible,” Daniels said, “with the understanding that we have to have a number that will be supported by a majority of the voters.”
Werbner said there were two changes in state grant monies since he prepared his proposed budget – a reimbursement of $75,000 for a manufacturers’ equipment grant, and a new property tax relief grant, which he called “more tenuous.”
“It's based upon putting together the increase in the sales tax, as well as the increase in the conveyance tax,” Werbner said, “and then coming up with a formula to distribute it to municipalities.”
Tolland is slated to receive $131,000, as an estimate.
Werbner recommended that, as a conservative measure, the council not include that money in the budget as a revenue source, to be safe, but others had a different idea.
“I would be in favor of including a portion of that,” said Councilman Jack Flynn, who suggested adding $50,000 to the town revenues, in order to lower the mill rate further.
Daniels and fellow Democrats had caucused just before the council meeting, and had proposed $200,000 from the education budget, and $63,000 cuts to the town and capital budgets, resulting in a 30.01 mill rate.
The council realized that the difference of perception between 30.01 mills and 29.99 could make a difference at the polls, despite being only two one-hundredths of a mill apart, and their feeling was that there was support by residents for Werbner's proposal.
“There does seem to be a confidence that people have,” said Councilwoman April Teveris, “in what has been put out by the town manager.”
The council debated further savings to reach that goal, that could be realized by delaying the hire of an assistant public safety supervisor, and putting off the purchase of a backup generator for Town Hall computers and communications systems for another year.
In addition to the reduction to the schools, $26,000 in revenue from the property relief tax grant was assumed, and $33,000 slated to replace a skylight and repair drainage systems at a town building were cut. Cuts totaling $59,000 were made to the capital improvement budget.
The resulting proposal would set the budget at $50.75 million – a 2.9-percent increase over 2010-2011.
The council was expected to finalize the budget proposal at a brief meeting May 5.
The next budget referendum will be Tuesday, May 17.