Milford faces $382,000 cut to education funds

Like other municipalities around the state, Milford is faced with a mid-term cut to the Education Cost Sharing (ECS) dollars it receives from the state. City officials recently learned that Milford will get $382,749 less than it anticipated for the current school year.

According to the CT Mirror, city and town leaders learned Thursday how much less the state will be sending their municipalities for education and construction projects for the fiscal year that ends July 1.

“The $50 million in mid-year cuts announced Thursday afternoon by the governor’s budget office come after the legislature adopted a budget with $20 million in unassigned cuts to municipalities and $30 million from grants for local construction projects,” the Mirror reported.

“While every town is touched by the reductions announced Thursday, the cuts to education largely fall on the state’s wealthiest communities. For example, Greenwich, the state’s most affluent community, will lose $1.3 million, a 90% cut to its Education Cost Sharing grant. The state’s poorest community, Hartford, will lose $250,000, a 0.1 percent cut in education aid,” the CT Mirror reported.

Milford’s ECS reduction represents a 3.4% drop, from an anticipated $11,231,850 to $10,849.101.

Looking at nearby towns, Stratford was cut 1.2%, from $21,711,782 to $21,461,782; Orange was cut 6.6%, from $1,615,314 to $1,509,226, and West Haven .6%, from $45,390,487 to $45,140,487.

The reductions will be applied to the January 2017 and April 2017 ECS payments, according to a Dec. 29 letter from the state Office of Policy and Management to municipalities.

“These reductions will be made in a needs-directed manner, whereby the ECS grant is reduced between 25% and 90% for the 25 wealthiest communities, and the 68 poorest communities in the state will lose only 1% or less of their ECS grant,” the letter states.

“OPM will consider the release of these holdbacks later in the fiscal year if a surplus is likely, but cannot commit to such reconsideration before release of the April consensus revenue projections.”

James Richetelli Jr., chief operations officer for the Milford Board of Education, said the news wasn’t expected but it wasn’t a complete surprise considering state budget woes.

Since the ECS reimbursement doesn’t go directly to the school board, but rather to the city, the mid-term cut doesn’t impact current school year spending directly.

“Our budget is our budget,” Richetelli said. “But it definitely affects the city.”

“That’s a big hit to the city’s revenue," he added.

Richetelli recalled that when he was mayor, during the Rowland administration, there was a similar mid-term cut, “and we had to adjust to it," he said.

While it may not impact the 2016-17 school spending plan, Richetelli said the news has implications for the 2017-18 budget, because one year’s ECS allocation becomes the benchmark for the following year.

School officials are getting ready to present the 2017-18 budget to the Board of Education: The superintendent's plan goes to the board Jan. 4 and School Supt. Dr. Elizabeth Feser will present it to the board Jan. 9.

“In preparing, we take into account how our budget is going to affect the city and taxpayers,” Richetelli said, adding that the plan is already “fiscally responsible.” Now, school officials will have to be mindful of how the adjusted ECS funding affects next year’s spending plan.

Finance Director Peter Erodici said he and the mayor have been discussing the cut to ECS funding, and the mayor said they will meet again next week to discuss spending controls. Mayor Ben Blake said he will also discuss spending controls with school officials.

“This is not one of the things we are thankful for this year,” Blake said.

The mayor said the city will also get about $350,000 less in LoCIP, or Local Capital Improvement Program funds, from the state than it had counted on as reimbursement for planned projects.

“This is unusual because it’s mid-year. It’s more difficult because we’ve budgeted [these amounts],” the mayor said.

He said the city “will roll with it” and find ways to make up the difference. Increased revenue due to a new ambulance billing system and a continued uptick in building permits and associated fees may help, he said.