It appears the Newtown Board of Finance is poised to consider adding $400,000 to the 2014-15 budget proposal to boost the town’s self-insured employee benefit fund balance, but will also consider new allocations to bump up senior tax relief and road repair programs as well.
And some officials believe it can be done while preserving a flat or slightly lower spending plan for local taxpayers.
First Selectman Pat Llodra told The Bee March 12 that Finance Director Robert Tait had prepared a “what if” spreadsheet that factored in new revenue, and that the document specifically referenced using that revenue to offset added underwriting for the self-insurance fund, senior tax program, and capital roads budget lines.
The finance board, which requested the "what if" scenarios, was expected to deliberate those ideas and pass a final budget proposal to the Legislative Council March 13, after the newspaper’s print edition went to press.
During a budget session Wednesday evening, Finance Board Chairman John Kortze also appeared to personally support the Board of Education’s budget proposal, although he and fellow finance board members spent nearly an hour asking detailed questions about the district’s budget request that touched on transportation, fuel, turnover, technology, and staffing.
Prior to the meeting, Mr Tait provided a copy of the budget scenario worksheets that detailed the offsetting formulas if the finance board opts to add the $800,000 in new spending to its final proposal before moving the request to the council.
The finance director explained that some developing revenue streams were not realized when the Boards of Selectmen and Education finalized their budget requests, and new information related to the self-insurance costs also came to the finance board late in their deliberation process.
Mr Tait said a grand list increase providing about $600,000, along with revenue from supplemental motor vehicle taxes and other sources, would more than offset the new expenditures. This means those additions would still provide the council with an overall budget request that could keep the mill rate flat.
The grand list is an annual listing of all taxable property in town. A mill represents one dollar for every $1,000 in taxable property.
There had been much discussion in recent weeks regarding the effects of perennial reductions to the capital road account. Years ago, it was determined that the Highway Department would require $2 million annually to keep up with required maintenance, repairs, and reconstruction of roads.
But that amount has been halved to $1 million in recent budget cycles. The proposed addition of $250,000 to that line is viewed as a way to begin building back to that $2 million annual funding during the next four fiscal cycles according to Mrs Llodra.
The first selectman has been warning officials that if something was not done to infuse more revenue into the road repair budget, the town might face going out to bond in 2015 to pay for major road repairs. This option is frowned upon by Public Works Director Fred Hurley, who told The Bee that today, a typical road resurfacing only lasts seven to eight years.
“It doesn’t make sense to bond a road project for 20 years when we’re only getting seven to eight years on each fix now,” Mr Hurley said.
Senior tax relief has also taken center stage since the latest local revaluation pushed up tax rates on senior condos and similar housing. Organized groups of residents, particularly at the three largest local senior communities, have been holding numerous meetings and forums with town officials requesting additional assistance to offset those tax increases.
A proposal to consider adding $150,000 to the existing senior tax relief budget has been floated in recent months, but it appeared that proposal could come to fruition during the finance board’s final deliberations March 13.
Near the close of the March 12 finance budget session, Mr Kortze said he felt he was “working with a really good budget,” and that his goal will be to “deal with the insurance issue; deal with the senior tax relief issue — balance that with the increase in revenue we have; and if there is any left over, do something about roads so we’re not walloped next year.”
He said the finance board would try to achieve those goals while preserving a “flat or slightly lower” budget proposal to recommend to the council, which takes up the next year’s spending requests following a planned March 26 public hearing.