Proposed budget will raise taxes $150 on average home

Taxes next year on the average Milford home with a market value of $311,000 are expected to go up about $150 under the 2015-16 proposed budget as it currently stands.

The budget hasn’t been approved yet, but so far the school board is asking for a 2.13% increase, from $89.21 million to $91.11 million.

Mayor Ben Blake presented his spending plan to the local media today, calling for a 1.9% increase in spending on the city side of the budget, from $109.12 million to $111.17 million in 2015-16.

Dollarwise, that means the school system is asking for an additional $1.9 million, and the city is asking for an additional $2 million. Combined, the city and schools are looking for an additional $3.9 million, from the current $198.34 million to $202.28 million, which is less than a 2% increase.

Looking outside at plows clearing city streets Monday, Blake said, “Today is a day you see your tax dollars at work, but even on less visible days, the city is always working.”

He described this year’s proposal as “lean,” one that reflects a fairly status quo spending plan. The increases, he said, are due to salary increases, debt service obligations and pension liabilities.

“Under this budget plan, there are a few personnel adjustments, the net result of which bears no new employees and no additional cost,” the mayor says in his message inside the 2015-16 budget book.

“New positions in accounting and open space are offset by “targeted reductions in the health and sewer departments,” the mayor said, noting that the finance department has for the past few years asked for a new accounting position to keep pace with increasing requirements, and that the city has been trying to make its open space manager part of the regular budget as opposed to a seasonal temporary position.

“The accomplishments of Milford’s open space and natural resource agent are clear, and I am therefore advocating that this position be folded into the operating budget so that we might make certain the continuation of these important services,” Blake said.

His budget plan accomplishes this by combining administrative responsibilities in the sewer and engineering departments to turn two jobs into one and by not filling the deputy health director job, which had been held by Deepa Joseph until she was named the city’s new health director.

Blake said the budget maintains the city’s current services.

“It protects our community’s core values by ensuring our public safety departments operate at optimal levels, our public infrastructure is properly maintained and our social safety network is robust,” he said.

One item that is not in the mayor’s budget proposal that some officials had hoped to see is money to help pay for two additional school resource officers (SROs).

In her budget plan, school Superintendent Dr. Elizabeth Feser put in $75,000, which is half the cost for two additional SROs.

Today there are four SROs — uniformed and armed officers who work in the schools. There is one at each high school, plus one who splits time between West Shore Middle School and The Academy, and the other who splits time between East Shore Middle School and Harborside. Their salaries are split between the city and the school board.

Feser said she wants one more school resource officer for the middle schools and an officer to travel between the elementary schools.

She said hiring two more SROs would be contingent on the police department’s budget supplying the other half of their salaries.

Blake said he didn’t put in money to increase SROs but rather to hold the number where it is.

As far as the projected tax increase, he said the final figure may become “rosier” as the budget process moves along, but he described the plan so far as one that would create “a minimal tax change from the prior year.”

“I am proud of our city’s exceptional government and believe this budget keeps Milford’s financial future on a prudent path.”