Finance board cuts $175,000 from school budget request

Taxes for the typical Milford homeowner will go down about $11 next year, following a Board of Finance budget vote March 2 where the board cut $175,000 from the school board’s requested spending plan for 2016-17.

This isn’t the end of the budget process, however. Next, the spending plan for 2016-17 will move to the Board of Aldermen for a round of reviews and a vote, before the budget is adopted in May.

On March 2, the finance board made various technical changes to the proposed city budget, plus the reduction to the school board’s spending plan.

Even though school officials said earlier that it was their most conservative budget in years, coming in at under a 1% spending increase, several finance board members said they believed it could be reduced.

Finance board member Joseph Fitzpatrick Jr. (D) initially made a motion to cut $230,000 from the school board’s request, which would have brought the school spending plan to $91,556,950, but that motion failed. Joseph Castignoli (D) suggested a $175,000 reduction — $50,000 from an energy savings allocation, $40,000 for an additional school resource officer and $85,000 from a natural gas account — but that didn’t fly initially. Mikel Montano (U) made a motion to cut $90,000 from the school spending plan, and that failed too.

At a stalemate with the votes at 2-2 because Lauren Secondi (R) recused herself because she is a teacher in Milford, Castignoli then presented his $175,000 cut again. Even though Chairman Brian Lema (D) said he was worried about cutting too much from what he described as a “responsible budget,” after the several tied votes he voted with Fitzpatrick and Castignoli to make the cut.

Montano indicated that she thought the reduction was too drastic. During discussions, Mayor Ben Blake urged caution, saying that state budget figures are not final yet and if they change, it could be a problem for the school board.

While there are anticipated reductions expected in some state grants, including about $7,000 less in education transportation funds, and $4,000 less than anticipated in Education Cost Sharing funds, city officials expect to get $2.7 million in sales tax revenue from the state for the first time.

“That’s a $1.8 million net increase to revenue,” said Finance Director Peter Erodici at an earlier budget meeting when he discussed various revenue changes. That increase is part of the reason that Milford residents may see a tax decrease, despite the fact that city spending is expected to increase for 2016-17.

But Erodici and Mayor Blake urged a bit of caution where allocations from the state are concerned. They said the aldermen, who will begin their budget review next, will have to keep an eye on the governor’s office in case those numbers change.

Board of Education Chairman Susan Glennon said after the finance board meeting that she was surprised the board reduced the school request by $175,000.

“Given the mayor’s budget did not support an additional  SRO for the school district, I expected our $40,000 share would be eliminated from our budget request,” Glennon said. “I am disappointed and frustrated by the reduction of an additional $135,000. Our contractual salary increases alone amount to $740,778 for next year, yet our total requested increase was only $776,312. Superintendent Feser and staff meticulously reviewed the existing line items for areas to reduce in an effort to present us with a budget that truly reflected the needs of the district, and my fellow school board members unanimously agreed with Dr. Feser’s request. The Board of Education does not have the benefit of an undesignated fund it can tap into if revenue and grants fall short, or if unexpected expenses arise. The budget we presented is tight, and coupled with the volatility of the state budget situation, this reduction is concerning.”

The Borough of Woodmont was also a point of discussion during the March 2 budget meeting. Fitzpatrick made a motion to cut the borough’s request from $230,000 to $220,000, but that failed. After some discussion, the board voted 4-1 to leave the borough’s allocation at $230,000.

After discussions and line-item votes March 2, the finance board voted for a total spending plan for the city and school system of $204,941,392, which is a 1.37% increase over the current budget. If nothing changes at the Board of Aldermen level, the mill rate would drop from 27.88 to 27.83 — .05 mill.

That means that for the typical homeowner, with a home at a market value of $311,070, taxes would go down $11 next year.