Finance approves $82.8-million budget

 

With the April 4 budget referendum creeping closer, the Board of Finance approved an $82,815,886 budget on Tuesday.

The Board of Finance’s budget is 0.26% less than the previous year’s budget and is $3.59 million less than the plan First Selectman Steve Vavrek proposed in February.

The budget allocates $28,174,119 for municipal expenditures and $54,641,767 to the Board of Education.

This year the town found itself in a particularly tough budget season, as Gov. Dannel P. Malloy proposed cutting $7.2 million from Monroe’s state funding. In addition to the drastic cut, Malloy proposed pushing the teachers’ pension fund payments to the municipalities, which would cost the town an estimated $3 million in the first year.

Taxes

Board of Finance chairman Mike Manjos said the budget that will be voted on in next month’s referendum features a 2.82% tax increase on the current year’s levy and a projected 2.17% increase for the mill rate. Ron Bunovsky, director of finance said the mill rate is not set until after the budget is approved through the referendum. He also said the projected mill rate for real estate and personal property would be 35.76 and the mill rate for motor vehicles, which is set by the state, would be 32.

Manjos said that in an effort to keep the tax increase down, the Board of Finance altered the budget so the town would be spending less than it had the previous year.

“The mill rate increase is very small, considering where I started two months ago — it’s much better than I expected it to be,” he said.

He said that in an effort to keep the mill rate down, the Board of Finance had to make several adjustments, including spending excess revenue that he expects to come from the current year’s budget and bonding items that are typically incorporated in the general fund.

“This is not the way I wanted to run our finances and we haven’t done this over the years. We’ve been very conservative with our finances and our finances are strong and some people are saying that’s why the state cut as bad as they did because we’ve done a good job managing our finances,” he said.

Manjos expressed concerns about how this year’s tight budget will impact next year’s numbers.

“Next year will be a much more difficult year than this year was because I can’t take $1.2 million out of the general fund every year, I can only do that once to really balance the budget,” he said. “I’ve pushed the revenue numbers, I’ve pushed every place I could push to not damage the services we provide and education. We’ll have a year to work on this now, but it’s going to be a very difficult year next year.”

Manjos said the Board of Finance created the budget based on the assumption that the state would be cutting an estimated $4 million from Monroe instead of Malloy’s full proposed cuts.  

“It’s a moving target. When the state originally sent their proposal down it was a $7.2-million cut, and then we’re not considering the pension part of it, which is a little over $3 million, so roughly we’re at a $4-million loss in revenue,” he said. “We also built in a reserve for a potential increase in the Educational Cost Sharing (ECS) grant of $1 million. At the end of the day, based on our current financial situation in Connecticut, the state funding is an educated guess. We worked for the last month with the town and the Board of Education to make the best assumptions we could.”

Vavrek said that the town has worked well together to respond to Malloy’s potential cuts.

“I applaud the efforts of our Board of Finance, Town Council and Board of Education for working with our town and schools finance directors, our superintendent and my office to put together this budget. No doubt our governor’s proposed budget has given Monroe the 10th highest tax increase in the state, Vavrek said. “Through our continued working together we have delivered a budget that, while drastically cutting many services across the board, also has a built-in contingency that if funds are returned by state legislative votes, we will be able to restore some services to our residents.”

Contingency

The Board of Finance added a $1-million contingency to the budget that would allow the Board of Education and the town to reinstate some of the cuts that were made if they were given any additional funds. Manjos said he would have liked to put more in the contingency fund but was limited by the town’s charter.

“The reason we stopped at $1 million is that the charter limits us to a contingency of half a mill so that’s $1,070,000 based on the current calculations so it would be nice to have a larger contingency but I can’t by charter,” he said.

He said that if the town uses the contingency, he would like the funds to be proportionately distributed.

“I proposed splitting [the contingency] between the town and the Board of Education proportionally — the Board of Education is roughly 65% of the budget and the town is 35% — but it would have to be voted on by the Board of Finance and Town Council,” he said.

Manjos also said the town’s spending budget is 1.46% less this year without factoring in the $1-million contingency.

“If you don’t include the contingency, our spending is actually minus 1.46% — so we’re actually proposing a decrease in spending over last year which has never happened since I’ve been around. We cut on the town side and we put a 0% increase on the Board of Education, and even with the contingency the [budget] is negative,” he said. “From a spending point of view I think a lot of people are cognizant of, ‘Oh, you should have a zero budget.’ Well, we have less than a zero budget right now.”

Board of Education

After approving the budget, Manjos said, the Board of Finance and the Board of Education are working with the unions in an effort to combat potential cuts.

“The other part of it is there has been a lot of talk about cuts to the Board of Education and none of those have been finalized. We have put a request in to the unions to ask them to defer their raises for one year — until we work through this budget mess. If we did that then there would be insignificant cuts to the Board of Education because you wouldn’t have to lose any teachers if we could defer raises,” he said.

The Board of Finance and Town Council do not have any control over the cuts the Board of Education chooses to make. They can only make suggestions, but the Board of Education is not required to act on them.

“The statute makes it very clear that they have control once we give them the funds. All those decisions belong to the Board of Education,” Manjos said. “They can make a lot of different decisions and there’s a lot of different places they can go.”

Manjos also pointed out that while they have budgeted a set amount for the Board of Education they could potentially gain an additional $658,860 in special education funding.

“They’re scheduled to get additional revenue from the state for special education. It’s about $650,000 additional, so basically it’s a $1-million cut from what they had asked for so it’s not quite as bad as it originally seemed on paper to the Board of Education. So they are very comfortable with it,” he said.

Superintendent Jim Agostine said the Board of Finance found itself in a tough situation this year.

“They had to consider potential cuts in funding from the state. My worst fear is that if state funding is not cut, then we have diminished our programming for nothing. The Board of Education has no choice but to make it work,” he said.

Budget breakdown

Overall, most departments saw less funding than they received for the 2016-17 budget. The following figures show the difference between fund allocations in 2016-17 and those proposed for the 2017-18 budget.

The First Selectman saw a $42,375 reduction in this year’s budget. Town Council would have a $600 reduction. The Board of Finance saw a $995,000 increase in its budget, which also features the $1 million for the contingency fund. The registrars of voters saw a $14,300 reduction. The town clerk would receive $24,991 less than in last year’s budget. The tax collector saw a $29,500 cut in funding. The boards and commissions saw a $4,400 decrease in their budget. The Senior Center would lose $9,838 in funding. Human Resources saw a $745,354 cut. Finance received a $6,310 reduction. Information Technology would have $42,339 less than in last year’s budget. The assessor saw a $4,534 reduction. Engineering would receive an additional $1,189. The Inland/Wetlands budget lost $3,377 in funding. Building gained an additional $4,741. Planning and Zoning lost $8,652. Town Hall Maintenance received an additional $28,674. Chalk Hill’s budget saw a $120,000 cut. Special Programs saw a $1,044 increase in funding and Regional Programs saw a $1,797 reduction. The Police Department’s budget was reduced by $10,488. The Monroe Volunteer Fire Department lost $12,035, the Stevenson Department saw a $9,930 reduction and the Stepney Department lost $13,045. The budget featured an additional $35,221 for fire hydrants. The Fire Marshal also saw a $9,801 reduction. Emergency Management received an additional $250 and EMS gained $483,307. Public Works had $584,767 cut from their budget. The Health Department received an additional $78,516. Social Services saw a $5,224 reduction. The library lost $10,704 in funding. Parks and Recreation had its budget decreased by $80,713.

The treasurer’s funding remained the same, at $10,839. The Economic Development Council maintained its $15,500 budget. The Board of Education’s budget saw a 0% increase.

Referendum

Manjos said he is hopeful the budget will pass at the April 4 referendum. He said he doesn’t know what else the Board of Finance can do to the budget at this point.

“This to me is already a negative spending, it’s a 2.17% mill rate increase — so basically if your valuation doesn’t change, which it’s not a revaluation year, so 90% of the people in town will not have it change so their taxes will go up 2.17%,” he said. “Based on our state’s situation, that is not an unreasonable request as far as I’m concerned.”

He said he would have preferred to hold off on having the referendum until they have more information from the state, but the town’s referendum dates are set by the charter. He also noted that each referendum costs Monroe $10,000.

“It costs money. I don’t know how much better people would expect. I know you get a certain amount of automatic ‘no’ voters, but it seems like people are more engaged this year and I’m hoping we get a good turnout [at the referendum],” Manjos said.

The budget documents are available online. 

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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