Town Council digs deeper for more budget cuts

By Steve Smith - Staff Writer
Tolland - posted Thu., May. 19, 2011
Tolland Town Council members (l-r) Craig Nussbaum, Jack Flynn and Fred Daniels at the special meeting on May 18 to make further cuts to the budget that failed at referendum the day before. Photos by Steve Smith.
Tolland Town Council members (l-r) Craig Nussbaum, Jack Flynn and Fred Daniels at the special meeting on May 18 to make further cuts to the budget that failed at referendum the day before. Photos by Steve Smith.

The Tolland Town Council has approved further cuts to the 2011-2012 budget proposal, after a second budget referendum failed by 36 votes on May 17.

After the votes were tallied that evening, the Democratic majority (five of the seven council members) held a caucus and came up with a revised spending proposal, which they presented to the council at a special meeting on May 18.

That meeting lasted but 20 minutes, as the proposal met with only a few questions. The council voted unanimously in favor of sending the amount of $50,427,662 back to the hands of voters on May 31.

The budget cuts an additional $243,750 from the education budget, and $81,250 from town operations and capital improvements, totaling a reduction of $325,000 from the previous proposal.

If approved, the budget would be an increase of $1.1 million over last year – a 2.25-percent increase – and move the mill rate to 29.73, which is a 1.99-percent increase over 2010-2011.

Council Chairman Fred Daniels said the failure of the referendum implies, via conventional wisdom, that the voters would prefer a decrease.

“That is the direction in which we need to go, reluctantly,” Daniels said. “I still feel personally that this was a budget that would have been good for the community.”

Daniels said that cutting the Board of Education's budget was difficult, because the board is “walking on a thin line.”

He added that the council has no choice, since “the voters have spoken.”

Councilors Craig Nussbaum and Francis Kennedy echoed Daniels.

“I can only hope the Board of Education can somehow find a way to play with its numbers,” Nussbaum said. “Given the cuts this time and the cuts today, I doubt that will be the case. I think we will most likely see cuts in education, which is disappointing.”

“I'm greatly concerned about the Board of Education,” said Kennedy. “However, I support this, because I don't see how the message from voters can be interpreted any other way.”

Daniels added that some constituents have asked for a zero-percent increase.

“I just don't think that is anything that the town can sustain,” he said. “As much as we, as taxpayers, would like to not pay any more in taxes, we also understand what it takes to run the town... and to run the Board of Education.”

Town Manager Steven Werbner was asked to make the town operations cuts, which include pushing back the hiring of an Assistant Public Safety Supervisor from Oct. 1, 2011, to Jan 1, 2012, saving $15,000.

Councilman Jack Flynn asked if there was another option to save $15,000 that would allow the position to be filled at the earlier date, but Werbner had no such option.

“It's a new position,” Werbner said. “Even though I feel strongly, as to its need... it's hard to eliminate existing things when you have a new thing coming in.”

Jan. 1 was the hire date originally proposed by Werbner.

The health insurance line item was reduced by $10,000, and $27,000 was taken from the Parks Department's Hicks Building line item, which was set for the connection fee to tie the Hicks Municipal Building into the town's public sewer system. Those monies will be taken from the current capital budget for the Town Hall geothermal project.

The capital budget is reduced by $29,250. A similar amount - $29,191- from the state's expected municipal tax relief grant will be assigned to pay for a portion of a Parks Department truck replacement.

Werbner said that state grant is estimated to bring $130,000 to Tolland, but since the state budget is not yet set, only about $50,000 is included in the town's proposed budget.

“There's still a $400 million gap,” Werber said, of the state budget. “We don't know for sure how that is going to be plugged. That $130,000 is dependent upon on sales tax and conveyance tax, so the actual dollar amount isn't really specific at this point in time.”

“Pretty much at this point, you're reacting to the voters,” said Councilor April Teveris. “For people who wanted to see a decrease, it's there. Whether it will do the trick or not, I don't know.”

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