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Residents and qualified voters who have questions or want to express thoughts on the proposed 2017-18 municipal or school budgets can do so before the Legislative Council at a 7 pm public hearing on Wednesday, March 22, at the Municipal Center. Attendees can also speak about or question first-time capital spending authorizations that will populate the ballot alongside budget questions.
The upcoming April 25 budget vote will be the first time in memory that qualified local voters can not only support or reject either or both operating budgets, but will also have the power to authorize or reject any or all of a handful of requested big ticket expenditures that will require bonding and correlating debt service.
In a presentation by Finance Chairman John Godin, March 8, the council accepted a proposed budget requesting a 1.6 percent increase in spending over the current year. If approved without adjustment by the council, voters will weigh in on a spending request that would increase the mill rate on real estate from 33.60 to 34.24, increasing taxation by 1.9 percent, and factoring a preliminary anticipated reduction in intergovernmental revenue of 21 percent.
A mill equates to one dollar in taxation for every $1,000 in taxable property.
The spending proposal that the council will take up following the scheduled public hearing March 22 increases the current year’s $114,182,379 budget to $115,992,078 — representing a $1,809,699 bump officials say is driven primarily by labor and contractual commitments.
On March 8, council Chair Mary Ann Jacob reminded her colleagues that the latest charter revision eliminated the town meeting, and increased the amount that the council could approve for each project up to $1.5 million.
That revision also capped the amount the council could authorize on its own. Ms Jacob clarified that in total the council can only approve 1 mill, or $3 million in capital projects — and the remaining requests must also go to taxpayers at referendum.
The council then authorized moving a $1.8 million request for middle school improvements, and $3 million for a new senior center to the special appropriations process, and eventually the ballot if approved.
In addition, voters will be asked to pass or reject a $750,000 request for the final phase of high school auditorium improvements; $850,000 for the Hawley School roof replacement; $1 million for capital road spending; and a $300,000 request to begin the design phase for a new police headquarters if the measures all pass special appropriations process.
A number of council budget committees have already began reviewing correlating aspects of the spending plan, and will continue to meet up to March 22. Ms Jacob said that the full council will begin a review and deliberations on the proposed budgets immediately following the hearing.