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April 25th Budget

Published: April 18, 2017

To the Editor:

Congratulations! Pat Llodra, Joe Erardi, and the Legislative Council have proposed a combined municipal and education operating budget for 2017- 2018 that is 0.7 percent below the current year budget; 0.3 percent municipal reduction, and 0.9 percent education reduction. The reduced spending is an appropriate response to the multiyear financial problems faced by the state.

The state has been unable to quantify its financial problems nor have programs been defined for addressing them. Undoubtedly, with no desire to increase state income taxes, the vast majority of the solutions will have a negative impact on town budgets.

Newtown property owners cannot afford major increases in the mill rate. The state is moving to a “new normal” with increasing cost pressures on all towns and Newtown must anticipate and adapt. The proposed budget is a good first step.

Below are my voting recommendations for the municipal and education spending requests on the April 25 ballot:
Yes — “Shall the sum of $40,399,575 be appropriated for the Board of Selectmen for the fiscal year?”
No — “If the proposed sum of $40,399,575 for the Board of Selectmen is not approved, should the revised budget be higher?”
Yes — “Shall the sum of $72,995,957 be appropriated for the Board of Education for the fiscal year?”
No — “If the proposed sum of $72,995,957 for the Board of Education is not approved, should the revised budget be higher?”

The ballot has six questions asking for approval of capital spending. With the state-imposed financial pressures under the “new normal,” the town will be less able to pay down debt and can ill afford additional interest expense. The town’s capital program also must adapt to spending less.

Next year’s lower budget does not include “hard” decisions. Following years will require funding of a $3 million to $7 million shortfall due to increased state expenses being driven to the town and reduced state revenue coming to the town. In order to keep the mill rate from exploding, subsequent budgets will require significant reduction in staffing, primarily in education. This means revisiting the closing of one of the elementary schools. It would be disappointing to approve capital spending on a school ultimately being closed.

I recommend a Yes vote only for the town road appropriation

I recommend voting No for all other requests and deferring any future capital requests until the state’s financial issues are quantified.

No — On the Hawley School, $850,000, and the middle school, $1,800,000 until a decision is reached on which to close.
No — Senior center, $3,000,000 can wait.
Yes — Town road repairs, $1,000,000. These cannot be deferred.
No — Newtown Police facility, $300,000, can wait.
No — High school auditorium Phase II, $750,000 can wait.

No one will be happy with the decisions recommended above, but the financial realities for the next few years dictate that the town take very conservative positions starting now.

Steve Bennett
4 Monitor Hill Road, Newtown         April 18, 2017

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