State budget looms as Milford prepares city budget

The Milford city budget is still on track to hold taxes stable or perhaps even lower them, despite a lot of unknowns about the state budget.

When the Board of Finance met this week, some members seemed to lean toward making cuts now to prepare for possible devastating reductions later on in the budget process due to state cuts. The Finance Board will vote on a city budget March 8, and then the spending plan will move on to the Board of Aldermen for a final vote.

Finance Board member Joseph Fitzpatrick was one of the five-member panel to suggest cutting spending now: He specifically talked about reducing the Board of Education spending plan “to ease into bigger cuts that might come along.”

Currently, Governor Dannel Malloy’s budget plan calls for an $11.1 million funding cut to Milford, which officials here said would be devastating.

The biggest portion of that is a proposed $10.8 million cut to the city’s Educational Cost Sharing (ECS) grant, which would leave Milford receiving zero ECS dollars.

But the mayor, as well Milford’s representatives in Hartford, think the final state budget will be much different than what Malloy has proposed.

They are banking on that as the city moves forward in adopting its budget.

While the other board members didn’t say if they will take state budget plans into account when they vote next week, Mayor Ben Blake seemed to urge them not to.

“We don’t know what will come out of it,” Blake said, adding that municipalities around the state are lobbying against Malloy’s budget plan. The city will know more in April, when the state Appropriations Committee votes on a budget proposal, Blake said.

Blake also told the finance board that the Board of Education “came in with a very conservative budget,” again seeming to urge the board not to reduce the school board’s budget.

Chairman Brian Lema suggested he will not be swayed by the potential state budget impact, saying he is opposed to “cutting for the sake of cutting.”

The finance board went over some technical changes to the budget plan Thursday night, but Finance Director Peter Erodici said they didn’t change the overall spending plan much.

The current city budget is $204,464,623. The mayor’s plan for the next budget year, when he presented it about two weeks ago, called for spending $208,178,608, a 1.8% increase.

Of that, the Board of Education accounts for $92,336,582 and the city portion is $115,842,026.

Even though expenditures increase, largely due to salaries, pensions, debt service, certain health care premiums and workers’ compensation and heart and hypertension coverage, Blake said booming construction in the city will bring in more revenue in 2017-18, covering any spending increases.

He confirmed that idea Thursday night when he shared news about the city’s Grand List with the finance board. The Grand List is a list of taxable property in the city. Overall the Grand List is up 1.84%; with a $139 million increase. According to Finance Board member Joseph Castignoli (D) that could generate $2 million more in revenue for the city.

“I guess that’s good news,” said Lema.

The 2017-18 city budget plan eliminates three jobs in the Public Works Department, in response to the new automated garbage system that requires fewer people be on a garbage truck. There used to be three to four people on each truck: Now there are two, and eventually that will be reduced to one person.

The Board of Education’s spending plan marks a 0.791% increase over the current year and is “the lowest budget increase in 15 years,” School Supt. Dr. Elizabeth Feser has said.

The school spending plan calls for several new initiatives, including a more robust robotics program in the middle schools and an entrepreneurship and business management program in the high schools.

New spending, Feser said earlier in the budget process, will be offset by reductions, including the elimination of 10 regular teaching positions, 4.4 special education teaching positions and three paraprofessional positions.

The school plan includes $40,000 for an additional school resource officer, but since the city didn’t match that amount on the city side of the budget, the finance board will likely cut that $40,000 from the school plan when it votes next week.

The finance board is scheduled to vote on the budget Wednesday, March 8, at 6:30 p.m. in Conference Room B of the Parsons Complex. From there it moves to the Board of Aldermen for a review and vote. The process usually wraps up in May.