Town meeting is blasé about $145.9 million budget

By Steve Smith - Staff Writer
Glastonbury - posted Thu., Jan. 24, 2013
Board of Education Chair Susan Karp said that while the schools' budget has already gone through the workshop process, the town operations side is just beginning. Photos by Steve Smith.
Board of Education Chair Susan Karp said that while the schools' budget has already gone through the workshop process, the town operations side is just beginning. Photos by Steve Smith.

Surprisingly, no residents spoke during the public comment portion of the annual town meeting at Glastonbury Town Hall on Jan. 23.  Town officials said it was the first time they could remember when not one person had a comment about the proposed town or school budgets.

A total (town and schools) spending plan of $145.9 million is proposed for 2013-2014 – a 3.55-percent increase over last year.

Town Manager Richard Johnson proposed a $37.3 million budget for town operations, as well as a $13.9 million budget for debt services and transfers. The proposed education budget, presented by Superintendent of Schools Alan Bookman, is $94.7 million – a 4.25-percent increase.

Johnson said wages account for .77 percent of the increase, with insurance and pensions also up over the current year. He added that there have been several initiatives over the past several years to keep costs down, including the transition of full-time positions to part-time, which, along with attrition, has netted a decrease in town staffing, and the town's switch to self-insurance for healthcare costs. “That has worked very successfully for us,” Johnson said.

Revenue, Johnson said, is hard to predict, and will depend largely on state and federal funding. “It's a little uncertain,” he said, “primarily as a result of the challenges that the state of Connecticut is facing. It is quite possible that state aid could be affected.”
Considering that, Johnson said his budget incorporates a conservative approach, including a potential reduction in Education Cost Sharing, and other state funds.

Revaluation will affect the grand list, Johnson said, adding that a half percent increase in the grand list is the net result.

Johnson said that if the budget passes as presented, residents will see a 3.6-percent property tax increase, however the actual tax increase for properties will vary, based on how each property value changed as a result of revaluation.

Bookman touted the school system's successes, including math testing scores, which have been well above average.

As was first mentioned at the Board of Education budget workshops early in January, enrollment and staffing levels are close to flat, with two proposed teachers cut from elementary schools, but the total of all staff members' salaries will add an increase of $1.7 million, or a 1.9-percent increase in the budget.

Health insurance increases, and professional and curricular development will also add increases, as will the schools' commitment to creating a 21st century learning environment, including the iPad program at the high school.

Board of Education Chair Susan Karp said that the board had made $579,000 in reductions to Bookman's first-proposed budget.

Bookman also said that while there have been recent upgrades to school security since the tragedy at Sandy Hook, there are anticipated further upgrades for the next budget year, including security guards in elementary schools and Gideon Welles School.

“We needed to fund security guards as much as possible, so we could keep that security in the schools,” Bookman said, adding that an upcoming security audit may reveal other actions that need to be taken.

The schools' proposed budget includes a 3.7-percent increase, plus a .55-percent increase for security.

When it came time for the public comments – the section of the annual meeting that has seen dozens of residents speak in past years – moderator Ray Hassett said he had a really nice statement prepared about vox populi, or the voice of the people, but said he would save that speech because the list of speakers was empty. A straw poll also indicated unanimous support of the proposed budgets.

The proposed budget will next be considered by the town's Board of Finance and the Town Council.

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