Vavrek says state cuts hurt town budget

First Selectman Steve Vavrek presented the Town Council with his proposed $86.4-million budget for 2017-18 hours after learning of Gov. Dannel Malloy’s $7.2-million funding cuts for Monroe on Feb. 8.

“This is going to hurt,” he said. “This budget will be tough, but we need to work together.”

Vavrek said he knows the budget he proposed will need to be significantly altered in the wake of Malloy’s budget cuts.

“We have always tried to move the town ahead a little bit and we’re going to continue to do that through the state’s proposals, but the numbers will be changing. It is a work in progress,” he said.

The proposed budget is 4.22% higher than the previous year’s budget, in part because the Board of Education’s budget is $56.2 million, which is 2.95% higher than in the previous year.

“The Town Council and Board of Finance certainly have their work cut out for them. As a member of the Town Council, my goal throughout this budget process will be to make sure that we are funding programs and positions that allow Monroe’s government to work smarter. We need to streamline processes, create efficiency in our government and continue to look through a lens of long-term strategic planning in all of our financial discussions and decisions,” Town Council member Nick Kapoor said.

Budget

In his proposed budget, Vavrek expects to take in $77.1 million in tax revenue — including supplemental taxes and the previous year’s taxes — which is 4.35% higher than in last year’s budget. His budget calls for an 8.25% decrease in the vehicle mill rate and a 4.52% increased mill rate for real estate and personal property.

“We’ve done a pretty good job collecting revenue,” he said.

During his presentation, Vavrek said bond applications have consistently decreased over the past few years.

When he broke down the budget, Vavrek said Board of Education budgetary needs make up 65%, followed by 11% for government operations and 9% for public safety. Vavrek also said health and welfare make up 1% of the budget and that he designated 5% for public works, 7% for the town’s debt service and 2% for culture and recreation.

“We can’t keep cutting back on these things,” Vavrek said about funding public safety and public works.

Cost drivers

Vavrek said the budget’s primary drivers revolve around education and the state’s decision to cut $5.3 million from the Education Cost Sharing (ECS) grant.

Other budget drivers include adding a full-time position to the Economic Development Commission, increased funding for road resurfacing, two new positions at the library, and salary increases for Parks and Recreation staff — which were approved in the town’s pay plan — and wage and pension increases for the Police Department as well as a new police car.

“We don’t want our police driving around in cars that old,” he said.

He also said this year’s police budget has seen a relatively low increase.

Vavrek said his budget does include funding for Chalk Hill. The town has not yet decided what it will be doing with the building.

He also noted that the town is saving money after changing the town’s health insurance provider.

“We’re making some savings from that,” he said.

State budget

As for the state’s $7.2-million funding cut to the town, Vavrek said he was trying to remain optimistic, but said the town needs state help. He said that even if the governor’s proposed cuts are cut in half, it still leaves Monroe with a $3-million hole to fill.

“The bottom line is we still have a town to run,” he said.

Vavrek said the main things the town has to be concerned about regarding Malloy’s proposed budget are ECS, special education and teacher pensions.

“Everything else we have decently covered in the budget,” he said.

Vavrek also said that if Monroe were to have a 0% increase from last year’s budget, the town would still have to cut $10.3 million from his proposed budget.

“We don’t want to go there. I can’t do that to the town of Monroe, I hope you can’t do that to the town of Monroe. We have to put the pressure on the state’s delegation,” he said.

The town’s charter requires Town Hall to present a budget to the public by April 4.

Vavrek urged the public to contact Town Hall with questions about the budget and to also contact state officials to voice their concerns about Malloy’s cuts.

“I’m going to be relying heavily not only on our elected officials here but on the Board of Education and our state delegation, which has a huge role to play in this whole thing,” he said. “It’s going to be them that have to advocate for the proposals to be knocked down.”

Board of Finance

On Feb. 13, the Town Council met with the Board of Finance to discuss which projects to fund in light of the governor’s budget cuts.

“We have to be prepared for dramatic cuts. We have to have a conversation about looking at everything from a whole new perspective, because we’re really dealing with something that wasn’t anticipated on any level,” Board of Finance chairman Mike Manjos said. “You can’t be looking at increasing anything.”

He also said that since the town won’t have the state’s finalized numbers by April, the town is “taking a crapshoot” on this year’s budget. As the town has to complete its budget prior to knowing how much Monroe will actually get from the state, officials will have to craft it based on their best assumptions.

“It’s very hard to plan prudently without accurate information,” Manjos  said.

When Town Council member Sean O’Rourke asked Manjos what the town should do if Monroe is faced with the projected $7.2 million in cuts, Manjos said the Town Council should avoid making any large capital investments at this time unless it’s a pressing issue.

Manjos also said the Town Council should consider closing a school because of the threat of cuts.

Board of Finance member Patrick O’Hara asked how the town should factor in the $3 million for teachers’ pensions if the governor’s proposal to push pension funding onto the municipalities is approved. Manjos said there are many different questions and legality concerns regarding the pension change.

“This is a whole different ball game,” Manjos said.

Town Council Chairman Frank Lieto asked how the town should determine which capital projects need to be done within the next year.

Manjos said the Stepney Elementary School roof should be done in 2018 and that everything else would need to be pushed to the future.

“Who knew we were supposed to just blow all of our money and we’d be better off,” Manjos said.

Lieto said primary capital improvement concerns moving forward would be limited to the Stepney roof repairs, road repairs and the EMS facility.

In the meantime, Manjos said, the Board of Finance would look into alternative funding sources.

However, facing such drastic cuts in state funding, Manjos said the town’s budget needs to be “put in the trash” and the town needs to start over.

“You’ve got to start over and you need to talk to every department head and say, Show me zero and show me minus five [in their budgets],” he said.

Manjos also echoed Vavrek’s comments about contacting state representatives about Malloy’s cuts.

“We need to make a lot of noise in Hartford if we have any chance of saving some of this,” he said.

Manjos also warned the Town Council that once the state officially cuts funding, those dollars are gone and won’t be coming back.

“We’re going to have to get used to operating at a lower level,” he said. “What can we possibly live without?”

 

About author
TinaMarie Craven is the Arts & Leisure editor. She previously worked as the editor of the Monroe Courier and the Lewisboro Ledger. She graduated from Ithaca College with a BA in Journalism and Politics in 2015.

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