Finance board's technical discussion of budget is next week

A key step in the 2014-15 budget process is coming up: The finance board is scheduled to vote on the city and school spending plans March 4.

The finance board has been reviewing department proposals for the past couple of weeks. As proposed, the spending plan would increase taxes on the typical Milford home with a fair market value of $250,000 by $263 next year.

The combined city and school spending package for 2014-15 is $199.3 million, which is $5.26 million more than the current spending plan. That represents a 2.71% increase, much of which Mayor Ben Blake said is “unavoidable.” Increases in pension contributions, debt payments and health care costs, plus wage increases, account for $5 million of the increased costs.

The board will hold a technical discussion about the budget Thursday, Feb. 27, starting at 6:30 p.m. in Conference Room B in the Parsons Complex.

In past years, the technical discussion has been interesting because board members discuss their key concerns, and make it clear why they will vote a certain way on a line item.

The budget vote is scheduled for Tuesday, March 4, at 6:30 p.m. in Conference Room B of the Parsons Complex.

After the finance board votes on a budget figure, the spending plan will move to the aldermen, who will hold a public hearing and then begin their own deliberations before voting in May.

Most department heads and directors of grant programs funded by the city shared information with the finance board as their budgets were reviewed in the last two weeks, some painting gloomy pictures of finances for the next year.

Toni Dolan, executive director of the Beth El Center, was present along with board member Mike Williams.

The city gives the Beth El homeless shelter and soup kitchen a grant each year to help pay its operational expenses. For the past few years that city grant has been $75,000; the center had asked for $80,000 this year, but the mayor, trying to hold the line on spending, proposed $75,000.

Dolan and Williams said they were not asking that the $80,000 figure be restored: They understand times are tough. They just wanted to make sure the finance board understands how things stand at the homeless shelter, and to urge the board not to reduce the $75,000 allocation.

Dolan said people seeking shelter have been turned away because the shelter is full. She said the soup kitchen has seen an increase in people served by more than 1,000, and there has been an increase in use of the shelter’s food program.

“The numbers are just climbing, climbing, climbing,” Dolan said.

Despite some reports that the economy is improving, Dolan doesn’t see it.

“This is the worse it’s been,” she said. “We’re seeing numbers in the soup kitchen growing exponentially; we’re seeing new faces.”

Officials at another Milford social service agency, Bridges, also talked of funding woes.

Barry Kasdan, president and CEO, board member Bill Sidarweck and Chief Financial Officer Kathleen E. Sheehan talked about diminishing state funds and rising operational costs.

Bridges has been getting $350,000 from the city for the past couple of years. Kasdan asked for $372,750 in the next budget, but the mayor held the request at $350,000.

Sidarweck spoke of the thousands of clients seen at Bridges, and said the need for services is great and getting greater.

Kasdan said it has been a difficult year for the agency and asked the board to consider his original request in the amount of $372,750. He said just last year they saw 8,363 people from the region, of which 5,500 were Milford residents.