Search This Blog

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Wallingford budget passes with additional cuts

As published in the Record Journal Thursday May 16, 2013
By Andrew Ragali
Record-Journal staff
(203) 317-2224

WALLINGFORD — In adopting Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr.’s $147.4 million budget Tuesday night, the Town Council approved additional cuts to an already tight Board of Education budget.
Dickinson revised his initial spending proposal last week, cutting expenditures by $531,411 from his initial $147.94 million request in early April. Spending cuts were made by Dickinson to counteract a reduction in state aid by the General Assembly’s Appropriations Committee. Of the cuts made to the budget, the largest was $279,411 in funding to the Board of Education.
“Is this something I’d hope we’d be doing right now? Absolutely not,” School Superintendent Salvatore Menzo said on Wednesday. “It’s not going to be easy.”
Menzo prefaced comments about his concerns by saying he has the “utmost respect for the mayor and the tough position he’s in.” Menzo said that while his job and that of theBoard of Education is to secure as much funding as possible for the school system, “we have to balance that with the realization we are a member of a community.”
If Dickinson needs to reduce funding to the Board of Education to create a balanced budget, “we’re going to make that happen,” Menzo said. “I have to trust his decision is the right decision.”
The Town Council passed the 2013-14 budget just before 12:30 a.m. Wednesday after a six-hour meeting. It reflects an increase of $2.27 million over the current fiscal year and will raise the tax rate to 26.22 mills, up 0.24 mills. Dickinson said that the owner of the average residential property, assessed at $191,000, will pay $5,008 in property taxes, compared to $4,962 under the current rate, an increase of $46. A mill equals $1 for every $1,000 in taxable property value.
Besides the Board of Education budget, Dickinson, a Republican, also cut seven projects in the Public Works and Engineering Department budgets in order to adjust forreduced state aid. The second largest cut was $110,000 necessary for the comptroller’s office to perform revaluation.
“Very little of anything here is not something that is needed,” Dickinson said of the revised cuts made to the budget. “None of these things are easily thrown away. It’s under the pressure of finding $500,000 to balance a budget.”
Due to the budget cut and increased expenditures, Menzo said the Board of Education needs to make up about $550,000 in its budget.
“My goal is not to stir up alarm,” Menzo told councilors Tuesday night. “There will be most likely some initiativesthat won’t be able to move forward and we will have to reduce the things we’re doing at present.”
Menzo said Wednesday that the board may consider reducing the purchase of technology by $400,000 and development of curriculum by $150,000 to balance its budget.
Town Councilor John Sullivan, a Democrat, was opposed to cutting the Board of Education budget any further and proposed an amendment to reappropriate money to the board.
“What’s important to us in this town? Education,” Sullivan said. “Next to public safety, it’s education.”
Sullivan said he would rather see the tax rate increased to offset reductions in state aid than cut money for education. But Sullivan’s amendment failed because a majority of councilors couldn’t support an additional tax increase.
“I think the tax increase here is too much as it is,” said Fishbein, a Republican. “I can’t support expenditure without an offset in the revenue.”
Fishbein proposed five budget amendments to offset reductions in state aid through different avenues than the mayor, the largest of which would have reduced the library’s budget by $200,000.Fishbein reasoned that the library has accumulated a $500,000 surplus and could afford the cut. None of Fishbein’s amendments passed.
“I’m just not comfortable supporting any additions to the budget” due to the fluid situation with state funding, said Town Council Vice Chairman Vincent Cervoni, a Republican.
Town Councilor Jason Zandri, who supported Sullivan’s amendment, said increasing the tax rate to balance the budget instead of cutting education money would only mean an additional $5 a month for the average household.
“The lesser of the two evils here is to charge a little more in taxes,” said Zandri, a Democrat.
Town Councilor John Le-Tourneau, a Republican, suggested the town use reserve funds in order to restore the Board of Education budget, but Bowes said using reserves would not be prudent since the town already used $4.3 million in reserves to balance the mayor’s original budget proposal.
“We’ve got to get ourselves off that reliance,” Bowes said.
“Now is the time to use it,” LeTourneau responded, referring to the reserve, or “rainy day” fund. “It can’t pour any more than it is right now.”
Responding to LeTourneau’s point, Dickinson said “inevitably I’m going to disagree,” reasoning that the state’s tendency to spend is what caused cuts in aid to the town in the first place, and “we shouldn’t repeat it here.”
The council took two separate votes to approve the budget. On the revenue side, the budget passed 7-2, with Economopoulos and Zandri voting no. On the expenditure side, the budget passed 5-4, with Economopoulos, Fishbein, Sullivan and Zandri voting no.
Dickinson said that he was told by the town’s legislative delegation an additional $1.2 million in state aid to the town “is still under discussion.”