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Finance Board Reduces School Budget Request By $185K



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The Board of Finance, upon completing its review of the 2023-24 proposed budget, approved the municipal budget with no adjustments but made a $185,000 reduction to the school district’s proposed spending plan.

The $185,000, representing $25,000 for a replacement sound system in the gym of Hawley Elementary School and $160,000 for stage lighting controls and stage curtains at Reed Intermediate School, is in addition to $546,000 in spending that has been moved to the Capital and Non-Recurring (CNR) Fund.

Officials recently moved an additional $900,000 from the fund balance to the CNR Fund to keep the town below the 12 percent cap for undesignated fund balance.

The final bottom line for the proposed combined budgets is $133,296,498 — a $4,270,460 or 3.3 percent increase from the 2022-23 adopted budget of $129,026,038.

Those numbers may appear slightly larger than normal due to $900,000 being sent to the CNR Fund, but that money will not have an affect on taxes, according to Finance Director Robert Tait. The mill rate, which last year was 34.67 mills, has been adjusted, due to revaluation, to 26.39 mills.

A mill equates to $1 of taxation on every $1,000 of taxable property. Tait said the adjustment translates to an estimated 1.85 percent tax increase for most residents.

The proposed 2023-24 municipal budget bottom line is $47,811,847 — a $920,448 or 2 percent increase over the 2022-23 adopted budget of $46,891,399. The municipal budget includes debt service on all town capital projects including school district projects.

The school board’s 2023-24 budget request is $85,484,651, roughly $3,350,012 or a 4.1 percent increase over the 2022-23 approved budget of $82,134,639.

The $546,000 in school spending moved to the CNR fund is made up of $274,000 for technology, including 600 Chromebook replacements; and $272,000 for building and site projects, including $22,000 for flooring in the music room and carpeting in the main office at Hawley Elementary School; $35,000 for duct cleaning at Sandy Hook Elementary School; $25,000 for parking lot stairs at Middle Gate Elementary School; $85,000 for exterior painting, sidewalk replacements, flooring replacements, and door replacements at Newtown Middle School; and $80,000 to replace flooring and refinish the gym floor at Newtown High School.

“We felt the taxpayers deserved to have a little taken off,” said BOF Chairman John Madzula. “We were looking for a minimalist increase. In the end, we felt it was a pretty concise budget — there was not a lot to take out.”

The finance board briefly discussed making a reduction to the municipal budget request from the line item for road salt by $105,351 due to a mild winter requiring less salt than normal. The consensus among board members, however, was the price on salt was already locked in. As a result, the motion to amend the municipal proposal failed.

Madzula felt “the hard point” is increases in fixed costs driving up the budget, which left little room for cuts — and the recommended increase in the medical self-insurance fund from a 6 percent contribution to 9 percent was necessary for the town to maintain “best practices.”

“From our perspective, we did our due diligence,” said Madzula. “Most everything [in the proposed budget] was well-justified.”

At the finance board’s February 23 meeting, Tait said the town’s Employee Medical Benefits Board recommended a nine percent increase in town contributions to the medical self-insurance fund.

The proposed 2023-24 budget currently includes a six percent increase. An additional three percent bump would cost the municipality $96,150 and $259,260 from the Board of Education.

Tait said that cost will be offset by $28,000 in savings in fuel oil for the Highway Department, and $4,950 for energy oil for public building maintenance, due to new contracts that brought a cheaper rate; and a $280,234 increase in revenues after Newtown received additional unbudgeted aid from the state.

Those changes approved by the BOF on March 1 increased the proposed bottom line $42,226 before the other adjustments.

The split 2023-24 budget requests now go to the Legislative Council for review. The council will hold its own budget public hearing before its regular meeting March 15. Madzula said he is expecting to be joined by other members of the finance board when presenting the proposed budget at that meeting.

Associate Editor Jim Taylor can be reached at jim@thebee.com.

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