NEWINGTON - The Town Council has set a $118.7 million budget for 2018-19, raising the mill rate to 38.5 mills, a 5.2 percent tax increase.
Elected officials were presented with a most challenging budget season this year, coupled with a $5 million cut in state aid and a stagnant Grand List. Payment to the Metropolitan District Commission - which provides water and sewer services in town - also rose 11 percent.
Councilors made final concessions to their tentative budget Monday night, scaling the town manager’s budget down by 2.6 million. General government appropriations total $36.7 million, a 3.6 percent increase over last year’s budget. The Board of Education receives $73.2 million, a 3.4 percent increase. The majority of both increases were necessitated by state mandates and contractual obligations.
BOE Chairman Joshua Shulman said arrangements could be made to finally open the STEM Academies at Newington High School, among the board’s priorities for the fall.
“The first phase, hopefully with two courses being taught,” he said.
The school board still has to finalize plans, but it’s likely that one full-time teacher would be hired and another district employee reassigned.
Several transfers were made within the town’s Capital Improvements Fund as councilors prioritized meeting handicapped accessibility building codes and making only necessary repairs at town sites.
They opted to hold off on replacing equipment that is still operational, including a police vehicle, thermal imaging camera for fire response, snow plow and lawn mowers. Also removed was a $300,000 item designated for environmental remediation of the school bus garage fuel spill, since a $1.5 million state grant was just awarded for the cleanup.
Councilors responded to the outcry of support for Newington Community Television at the last public hearing by adding money back into the budget of the volunteer-run organization. NCTV needs to replace some film equipment to continue providing its popular live coverage of town meetings and events. Its funding from the town totals $10,000.
Republican Gail Budrejko called the budget season “exceptionally civil,” also suggesting serious consideration be given to a shared services approach in the future.
“I’m glad we budgeted conservatively the last few years because with these other factors we would have been facing even higher taxes this year,” Budrejko said.
Mayor Roy Zartarian thanked councilors for their efforts, as many hours were spent balancing revenue with unavoidably higher expenses.
“I think we’re setting the bar for future councils in working together,” he said. “It speaks volumes about every one of us, what we’re bringing to the table and what we can accomplish as a team.”
In the minority this term, Republicans proposed a mixture of adjustments in March that would have led to a slightly lower budget increase than the one Democrats put forward. Several GOP-led adjustments were added back in this week by the majority party.
“We all worked hard,” Democrat Diana Casasanta Serra said. “In the end we weren’t that far apart in our totals.”
Majority Leader Carol Anest pointed out that the resulting tax increase of $310 for the average homeowner is equivalent to the cost of private trash removal, a service the town currently provides to residents.
“This is the best we could do for the board and town while still moving forward,” she said.
Minority Leader Tim Manke acknowledged that some homeowners will have a harder time adjusting to the increase than others.
“For a lot of people this is a problem,” he said. “For some it’s devastating. I don’t think many of us are going to get a 5 percent raise this year to meet this budget.”
Resident Gary Bolles thanked the council for its hard work on the budget, blaming cuts in state aid for the town’s unusually difficult task.
“We live in the real world and there are realities we have to face,” he said. “I don’t like it but that’s the way it is.”
Erica Drzewiecki can be reached at 860-801-5097 or firstname.lastname@example.org.