Town, education budget factors outlined
By Steve Smith - Staff Writer
Glastonbury - posted Wed., Nov. 30, 2011
In what has become a tradition around the time of Thanksgiving, the Glastonbury Town Council and Board of Education heard from Superintendent Alan Bookman and Town Manager Richard Johnson on some projections and challenges that lie ahead for budget season.
Johnson's presentation began with the good news, including the town's AAA bond rating, the continuation of Riverfront Park project and the town's successful land acquisition and preservation program. Johnson said the budget increases for the past three years were all below 2 percent, and the tax increases were also an average of 1.96 percent.
As in those past years, wages, pension, health insurance costs, utilities and capital outlay are the major factors that will help determine the town's operating budget for 2012-2013. Town employee wages have remained fairly steady in recent years, Johnson said, through some staff reductions and positions that haven't been filled after retirements and attrition.
This next year may see some wage increases, as some of the town employee groups are in the collective bargaining process, Johnson said, adding that there may be a counter-balance. “I would expect, in the coming year, to see further opportunities to consolidate staff,” Johnson said. “Those savings would generally offset any potential general wage increases that are collectively bargained for.”
Revenue reduction – especially grand list growth – may be the toughest hurdle. Non-tax revenue has decreased by $1.6 million over the past three years. “That is a significant loss in non-tax revenue. The largest contributor to that has been a reduction in investment income,” Johnson said, adding that things such as town clerk fees and building permits have declined sharply.
Grand list growth is projected at a very modest .3 percent, compared to a 1-percent increase for the current budget. That equates to an increase of just $375,000 in tax revenue, given a 99-percent collection rate. “Hopefully that will move up,” Johnson said. “Time will tell.”
Bookman pointed to unfunded federal and state mandates (including $450,000 for Scientific Research Based Interventions) as one factor that will affect the school budget. “I don't mean to say that some of these things are not good things for kids and education in general, because most of them honestly are,” Bookman said, “but, they literally cost money.”
Salary increases, which were negotiated with the teachers' union, will include step increases between 1 and 1.9 percent. Those and other salary increases, as well as a $360,000 educational jobs fund in the current year that won't be returning, will net the district an increased expenditure of $1.96 million – a 2.2-percent increase over the current year.
“That's a major contributing factor which gets in the way of a moderate, reasonable budget for next year,” Bookman said, adding that some good news comes in the form of an anticipated small increase in healthcare costs of just 1.5 percent and a small decrease in utility costs. "We think that our costs for utilities are going to come down next year, with the locked-in costs that we have,” Bookman said. “So, we're feeling good about that.”
Bookman added that he projects about 12 teacher retirements in the upcoming year, which will see some savings for the district. He also explained that the birth rates have declined steadily (locally, in Connecticut, and nationwide), which will reflect cost savings in the long term.
Bookman did not give a specific percent increase, but pointed to the recent history of his proposed budgets, which have ranged from 4.91 to 3.83 percent in the past three years. “Our goal, even with the costs that we have and the salaries that we have, is that we are going to be somewhere in that same place,” Bookman said.
As points of reference, Johnson presented scenarios that range from a mill rate increase of 0, which will only see the town's revenue increase by $105,000, to a 3-percent increase, which would provide a $3.7 million increase over the town's current budget.
Bookman said the Board of Education budget workshops are expected to be held on Jan. 3, 4, and 5, starting at 6 p.m., and the board is expected to approve the budget at its Jan. 9 meeting.