Council to Set Tax Rate Tonight

by LonSeidman

After two months of hearings, the Town Council is expected to approve the 2010-2011 annual budget tonight at its 7:30 meeting. Yet to be decided is whether or not the tax rate will go up slightly or if portions of the proposed municipal and education budget will be cut to avoid such an increase. A 0.25 mill increase may be possible unless the Council finds $170,000 to cut within the municipal and Board of Education budgets.

According to last week’s Republican-American article, Councilmen were looking at trimming the municipal side of the budget by $170,000. This would affect cuts to the library, medical costs for town employees, maintainance to public works vehicles and other items. Town officials contacted today expect that the mill rate will likely remain the same and the cuts will be made. Where the final cuts are made are yet to be seen tonight, however.

On the chopping block include $10,000 for new books for the library which may result in delays in obtaining the latest releases that are often in demand by residents. A $5,000 maintanance item for overhauling the suspension on a town dump truck may result in a more costly expense or delays in plowing later this year. Office supplies and materials affecting town hall may delay steps to modernize certain departments.

Mayor Dunn told the Republican American that the increases in the budget were attributable to an under-performing town pension program. Just as many residents have lost value on their 401 (k)s over the last year, so has the town’s investments in similar funds to fund the town’s pensioners. Yet, the obligation for the town to fund the pensions still exists despite the economy.

The Board of Education level-funded their budget this year. Cost savings were achieved partly because enrollment within the school system is down this year and is expected to be reduced next year. A population dip statewide has affected all school systems. This, combined with the economic slump is impacting municipal tax receipts and many towns are considering closing their schools. In Wolcott, this meant not replacing many teachers who are retiring. Some expenses such as medical costs is shared between the two budgets. When the Council approves the Board of Education budget, state law only permits a whole dollar amount be granted to the Board to expend, even though their budget makes up almost two-thirds of the entire municipal budget. They may reduce any single or multiple line items in the municipal budget which includes police, fire, public works, library and governmental operations. They may not increase any funding expenditure.

The Board of Education and Superintendant are pleading for no cuts to their side of the budget because they held their budget to the same amount as last year. The May 26th article in the Rep-Am suggested that cuts to the Board’s budget would violate the state’s minimum funding requirements. The State currently subsidizes the town for about 65% of its Board of Education budget. If the Council did make cuts, one could reasonably assume that 35% of such cuts would help in defraying the cost to municipal taxpayers. (The rest of the savings might be viewed in state income taxes… except the state is broke anyway)

According to some participants at the Council workshop last week, Councilman Mike Bokon inquired about why the Board of Education hired a private contractor to replace asphalt curbing around many of the schools and dug out a well at Wakelee School in the final weeks of last year’s fiscal year. The Town’s Public Works Dept. often assists the school board with paving projects and plows all of the schools during snow storms and could have been used as an alternative to hiring a non-municipal firm. School officials replied that they had asked the Public Works Dept., but the department was busy with other projects during the time period the school department requested the work to be done.

Public Works Director Dave Kalinowski tells the Whisper that he received the request late in the fiscal year. “We usually are more than happy to handle requests for paving and we usually do it. But they wanted the paving done in just a very brief time frame while we were handling other more pressing projects and we couldn’t accommodate them.” The exchange last week mirrored a series of questions about a month ago between some Council members and School officials about how much money the Board spent in the final months of last year’s budget when the town was projecting a budget deficit. The Whisper also received a query from a resident about whether or not the BOE recently approved an end-of- the-year party for the district’s 200+ teachers as an appreciation for the teachers taking a furlough day this year. The Whisper has verified that the picnic did occur for this reason, but as of yet is unable to determine who approved it.

There will be public comment permitted at the beginning of the Council meeting tonight.

What do you think should be done to the Town’s budget tonight?

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