Building the town budget — part one

WOODBRIDGE — With the New Year, the budget season gets into full swing as town boards and commissions gather, funding requests are discussed, refined, and presented, and a final budget proposal slowly takes shape. When the negotiations are over, a new fiscal year budget for 2002-03 will emerge this spring for consideration by the citizens of Woodbridge in two town meetings; the Preliminary Budget Meeting in April and the Annual Town Meeting (ATM) in May.

Voters will then have the opportunity to give final approval to the town budget — provided that a quorum of 250 voters is present for the ATM. If a quorum is not achieved for the ATM, the vote to approve the town budget reverts back to the Board of Selectmen.

Since November, town agencies have been planning their department funding requests, which fall into two categories; capital budgets and operating budgets. The Boards of Selectmen and Finance will meet jointly in early January to hear capital budget presentations from all requesting departments, and will also meet with each department to receive operating budget submissions beginning in February.

Last fiscal year's budget was composed of operating budget requests from 38 departments and requests for funding to the six-year capital improvement program from 15 of these departments. After receiving operating budget requests originally totaling $31,182,363 the Board of Finance approved a total operating budget of $30,108,718 for fiscal year 2001-02.

After heavier than usual turnout — prompted by concerns about less than full funding of the elementary school budget request — last year's ATM on May 21st fell only about 25 voters short of achieving a quorum. It would have been the first time in almost a decade that enough voters had shown up to control the budget vote.

Last year, the largest category of operating expense was incurred by school budgets; the Woodbridge share of the Amity Regional School District (for grades 7-12) received 30 percent of town operating budget funds, or $9.2million, while the Woodbridge School District (grades PreK-6) received 29 percent, or $8.8million. The remaining 41 percent of town funds went to public safety costs (nine percent of total operating funds), debt service (seven percent), general government costs (six percent), public works (also six percent) and employee benefits (another six percent). All other categories of spending received the remaining seven percent of funds.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the equation, the town's revenues last year were generated overwhelmingly from property taxes; fully 90 percent of revenue came in this form. State grants accounted for another three percent of revenue, while permit fees and other sources also brought in three percent. Investment income (two percent) and fund balance allocation (another two percent) accounted for the remainder of revenues last year.

As the budget begins to take shape, additional articles will focus on various aspects of the process and an analysis of the final budget.