Milford grappling with proposed state aid cuts

Gov. Dannel Malloy's  recently announced proposal to hold back $91 million in state aid in an effort to ensure a balanced budget leaves 160 of Connecticut’s 169 municipalities with less municipal aid for the forthcoming fiscal year.

The overall change in funding for the City of Milford under Malloy’s newly announced cuts totals $1,992,546.

“The last budget for the present fiscal year allocated Milford $15,697,990 in state aid, however that figure has been administratively reduced by holdbacks and reductions,” said Mayor Ben Blake. “The governor’s 2018-2019 proposal brings down Milford’s state aid to $12,929,945.”

“There has been a downward trend in our state funding over the past couple years,” continued Blake. “A bipartisan budget was unveiled at the end of October and since then there has been some administrative holdbacks and administrative reductions that hurt Milford by several million dollars. The governor’s proposal further reduces the present year’s amount by a substantial amount.”

“If you look back 10 years ago, about 15 percent of our overall budget came from the state and now it’s about 1/3 of that so we have had to find ways to make up for that and find new revenue streams, hopefully non-taxpayer revenue sources and ways to pay for our operations.”

In Blake’s 2018-2019 general budget proposal to the Board of Finance for the fiscal year July 1, 2018 - June 30, 2019, he noted, “While transformative changes have allowed our community to flourish, we have nonetheless maintained our traditional approach to budgeting. This practice of conservative financial planning has paid dividends, with Milford realizing tax cuts for residents and businesses for each of the past two years. For the first time ever, Milford taxpayers experienced back to back decreases in the amount of local taxes due in both 2017 and 2018.”

“Milford has had a long history of good services, good schools and we want to maintain and improve upon all those things that we offer locally. The last two years we have had municipal tax cuts, we’ve been able to find ways to grow our grand list and ways to cut taxes for residents and businesses. That’s always the goal, to keep our taxes flat or reduce them and we’ve been successful the last couple years and that’s what our boards and commissions that are reviewing the budget at this point are looking to do as well.”

The mayor’s 2018-2019 budget strikes a balance between services and funding as it lays the groundwork for another responsible fiscal year, he said. The suggested financial plan holds spending increases to a minimum while preserving core municipal functions while simultaneously recognizing potential revenue growth, he said.

When asked for specifics on where budget cuts may be made if necessary, Blake said, “The proposal that I have states that our budget is $210 million approximately and we’ve found new revenue sources the past couple of years, we’ve come in with surpluses at the end of the year so we’ve been able to maintain a healthy fund balance. Last year we had about a $9 million surplus and the year before about a $7 million surplus. We have been prudent in terms of our operations and have just increased to a AAA bond rated municipality.”

In Blake’s proposed budget released Feb. 1, “The proposed mill rate between the city side of the budget and the Board of Ed side of the budget will stay flat under the proposal. Things could change and we’ll have to make adjustments,” he said.

The Board of Education presentation to the Board of Finance was held last week and the Board of Finance has started their budget review and will then make their final recommendations in early March. “In early April, the Board of Aldermen takes up the recommendations of the Board of Finance and ultimately adopts a final budget early to mid-May, so that’s the general budgeting process we have here in Milford,” said Blake.

“At this point, we are monitoring the state budget as it makes its way through the legislative session,” he added. “Our local budget isn’t adopted until mid-May, but there will be some city staffing positions eliminated. Our project that’s on hold until the State Department of Transportation (DOT) releases funding for the Special Transportation Fund (STF) is the Gulf Street reconstruction project. The road improvements have been designed by the city and we await the go ahead that CTDOT will pay under the Local Transportation Capital Improvement Program (LOTCIP).”

“About $15 million was approved by the legislature at the end of October but even since then for this present fiscal year there has been a couple million dollars that has been reduced in state grants to Milford but even in addition to that there’s been other reductions of new revenue we have to make up.”

For example, “The circuit breaker program that the state had where they offered senior citizens and disabled residents who make a certain dollar threshold - were offered a tax abatement. The city got reimbursed about $400,000 for that program that the state no longer offers so that’s another $400,000 we have to make up and there are other similar things like that we have to make up.”

Blake said of the governor’s recent proposal, “In total grants it is a little less than $13 million for Milford that includes ECS (Education Cost Sharing). It’s a couple million less than the budget that was passed in October.”

Additional sources of revenue with which to bridge the gap may include, “Milford has a lot of growth in terms of new businesses moving into Milford,” explained Blake. “This last year we had 440 LLC’s move into Milford and also additional expanding which has helped us grow our grand list, we haven’t added positions but have in fact been reducing positions for the last couple years, and our Board of Ed has been very conservative over the last couple years. We run a very tight ship, in terms of long-term strategic planning, we are trying to maintain and enhance the great services that our taxpayers and the residents of Milford have come to expect but at the same time we are trying to streamline the way in which we deliver those services.”

These initiatives have included implementing an automated trash collection system and the Fire Department teaming with ambulatory services (advanced life support) transportation. “We are hopeful the legislature will see the need to move all Connecticut municipalities forward, especially those who have scrimped and saved over the past many years and are responsible with the way they budget,” concluded Blake. “Milford has gone without for many years and we continue to reduce operations and we want to make sure the conservative budget practices we have are well received in Hartford and that they’re not going to indiscriminately reduce state funding.”