STONINGTON — Adjustments to the proposed budget will allow city officials to move forward with a plan that would create a slight reduction in the per-mille rate, even with a significant increase in spending.
Stonington officials are preparing to deliver to voters a combined $76.75 million spending plan for general government, education and capital improvements, which represents an increase of $3.6 million, that is nearly 4.7%, compared to the previous year. The proposal should be sent to the annual municipal meeting on April 13.
Despite the increase and the need for additional tax revenue, the Big List increases and adjustments, including the use of the fund balance, would result in a 0.19 reduction in the city’s per mile rate. If approved as presented, the plan would reduce the rate from 23.85 to 23.66, a decrease of 0.8%.
“This is a budget that resulted from a compassionate and insightful discussion by members of the Finance Council,” said first coach Danielle Chesebrough. “For years we had built up the reserve fund, and with the high cost of living, it was time to dip into that to offset the increases.”
Although decisions on several changes were far from unanimous, members of the Finance Council ended a month of deliberations on Tuesday evening by submitting a final proposal to voters for consideration. The council’s final budget proposal came after a public hearing in which some called for further spending cuts while others sought to see additional funds dedicated to various efforts.
In the end, the finance council members settled on a compromise that led to the $76.75 million proposal and used a 3.6% increase from the big list and 1, $5 million from the fund balance to lower the mill rate for ratepayers.
Drawing from the fund balance, Chesebrough noted that city policy requires Stonington to maintain a reserve with two months of operating funds, plus an additional $1 million. The reserve is more than $5 million beyond the two months of operating funds at this point, she said, and would remain at a healthy level even after using the $1.5 million to compensate. spending in the next budget.
Timothy O’Brien, chairman of the finance council, urged civility in the discussions as it became apparent that some had differing opinions on how to move forward. O’Brien also urged residents to consider, as he has in recent meetings, that “there are many worthwhile investments presented in the budget each year, but only so much money that can be spent.” “.
The budget to be sent to voters includes $25.27 million for general government operations, $38.98 million for education, $7.73 million for debt service and $4.76 million for capital improvements. General government spending increased by nearly $1.4 million, while education spending would increase by only $600,000 over the next year. The debt liability would also decrease by $300,000.
The proposal calls for a significant increase in capital spending, with $4.76 million allocated for the coming year. In the previous two years, the city had approved capital improvement expenditures of $2.77 million and $2.44 million respectively.
Blunt White, a Republican and former member of the Board of Finance, remained a vocal opponent of increased spending and the use of fund balances to offset city spending. The city’s budget proposal represents one of the largest single-year spending increases since it began tracking the numbers in 2008, he argued, and offers taxpayer relief only by drawing heavily on reserves.
“The Big List net grew 3.6%, the biggest Big List growth since 2008,” he said. “This budget proposes much higher spending and is not balanced, so it has to dip into the fund balance.”
Following a lengthy review process on Tuesday, in which Finance Council members reviewed capital items one by one, only a few cuts were made. Chesebrough said officials had hoped to cut spending further, but would not be able to do so without eliminating necessary projects such as road and infrastructure repairs.
“How do you say ‘No, we’re not going to fix this dike that’s collapsing’ or ‘We’re not going to finish this road that doesn’t end?'” asked Chesebrough. “We’ve gone through everything line by line, but there are projects that need to be done.”
Other increases in capital improvement spending include funding for sidewalks, including a major project set to begin along the Highway 1 corridor, and funds to begin addressing repair and maintenance needs of the HVAC at Stonington Middle School. Funding for the HVAC project, however, was reduced from $900,000 to $500,000.
Chesebrough said for the city that the increased capital spending is part of a change that began less than a decade ago. After years of little or no funding for the projects, the city added a long-term road reconstruction plan in 2016, and the next budget will be the first to also include an infrastructure repair schedule designed to more directly address the problems of the city’s bridges, she mentioned.
With the finance council having approved a draft budget, council members will hold a meeting at 1 p.m. Friday to launch the call for the annual finance city meeting.
The annual municipal assembly will then be held on April 13 to send the budget to the referendum vote, in accordance with the city’s charter.
The annual budget referendum will then be held from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. on April 26. Districts 1 and 3 will vote at the Stonington Fire House, 100 Main St. in Stonington; District 2 will vote at the former Pawcatuck Middle School, 40 Field St. in Pawcatuck; and Districts 4 and 5 will vote at BF Hoxie Engine Co., 34 Broadway Ave. at Mystic.
Residents eligible to vote can also request a postal vote for the upcoming referendum. Absentee ballots will be available at Stonington City Hall through the City Clerk’s Office beginning April 5.
More details on the budget proposal, including copies of all budget documents, are available on the city’s website at stonington-ct.gov.