Griswold voters to discuss $31 million budget at town meeting May 6

By Janice Steinhagen - Staff Writer
Griswold - posted Mon., Apr. 29, 2013

Griswold voters will have a chance to comment on the revised $31,784,162 budget for fiscal 2013-14 at the annual town meeting, slated for Monday, May 6, at 7 p.m. at the Griswold Middle School cafeteria. 

The general government side of the budget now stands at $6,660,312, of which $1,964,666 is debt service. The budget represents a 1.27 percent increase over last year. The selectmen had initially requested $7,204,641.

First Selectman Philip Anthony said that his board’s proposal to increase hours for both the assessor and Town Planner Mario Tristany from part- to full-time were rejected by the Board of Finance in order to trim the budget. The assessor’s position has remained unfilled for some time; the previous assessor left to accept a full-time job, Anthony said.

“I disagree with the Board of Finance’s actions on those items. Both positions garnish revenue for the town” – the assessor through the Grand List and the planner through grant acquisition and economic development, he said. “It would have been a good investment. As a businessman, I try to run the town as a business. You have to be fiscally responsible.” Reductions would have been better made in other positions, he said.

Finance board chairman Steven Merchant, Sr., said that his board felt obliged to level-fund the two positions. “I know the input from the public and the input from the selectmen was that they wanted to see [those positions] full time,” said Merchant. Commercial development would ease the burden on residential taxpayers, “but that’s a catch-22 with the planner working part-time,” he said. He agreed with Anthony that a full-time planner could help build the town’s business base, but the economy won’t allow it. “Maybe next year,” he said.

Town residents had also requested increased funding for the ambulance service and the library, but those items were also maintained at last year’s funding levels, he said.

Merchant said of the selectmen's initial budget proposal, “There was upwards of $1 million in capital improvements.” The original $1.052 million capital request from the selectmen was trimmed to $673,000. Among the casualties was $200,000 of the proposed $600,000 in road and bridge projects and $120,000 of a proposed $150,000 for a school maintenance garage.

On the education side, the Board of Finance trimmed $25,000 from the Board of Education’s initial proposal, bringing the budget to $25,123,850, a 1.85 percent increase over last year. “The board [of education] has not completely committed to where that $25,000 is going to come from,” said Griswold Superintendent Paul Smith. He said that the board meets next on May 13, the day before the referendum, and will likely wait until taxpayers’ votes are in before adjusting the budget.

Smith said that the school board is committed to retaining the school budget’s so-called “green tier” items – line items that are new this year but were added based on input from townspeople. These include a full-day kindergarten, the restoration of a part-time music teacher position to full time, and instructional items linked to preparing students for the Common Core standards, which are being phased in as mandatory for schools in the state.

“Green tier” items, which account for about $175,000 in spending, were made possible in part by reductions in “red tier” items, which cut across the curriculum and include textbooks, instructional supplies and equipment, Smith said. Since the shift in funding was in response to voter input at the budget hearing, “we’re hoping people will show that support at the polls on May 14,” he said.

“To be honest with you, I don’t know if  this budget is going to pass,” Merchant said. “I have concerns. It’s a mill and a quarter increase, close to it. I think that’s tough for the taxpayers, but I hate to cut people’s programs and have everybody in an uproar.”

A budget referendum date will be formally set at the town meeting, but a tentative date of  May 14 has been agreed upon by town officials, Merchant said.


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