This is a printer-friendly version of an article from Zip06.com.Article Published May 26, 2020
An $18,256,938 budget for the town of Deep River was approved unanimously at a special meeting of the Board of Finance (BOF), held remotely, on May 18. The grand total represents a 0.19 percent spending decrease from the current fiscal year’s $18,292,202 budget, but will result in a 29.99 mill rate, a 0.57 mill or 1.9 percent increase.
Instead of approval at the annual town meeting, the BOF was granted the authority to adopt a budget by the Board of Selectmen (BOS) under a series of executive orders issued by Governor Ned Lamont due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The lack of a town meeting was really disconcerting for me, the BOF, the BOS; it was not at all where we wanted to go. We were trying as hard as we could to maintain the schedule and keep the process as normal as we could, which meant waiting until the 18th to have the special meeting,” said First Selectman Angus McDonald in a telephone interview with the Courier on May 19.
“There was also a wish and hope that something would open up [or] change, so that we could have a town meeting,” he added.
A key budget driver for the town’s fiscal year 2020–’21 (FY 21) budget was education expenses.
The approved budget gives a 3.8 percent increase from the current fiscal year to $5,464,144 for Deep River Elementary School and a 5.07 percent increase from the current fiscal year to $7,493,471 for Regional District 4 school expenses.
“This budget was turned on its ear by the Board of Education” (BOE) budget, said McDonald. “I’m not laying blame anywhere, the BOE was caught by surprise, too. The increase in costs to Deep River with the K-12 budget really drove the struggles that we had with what we wanted to do and what we needed to do.”
To help mitigate increases in educational expenses for 2020–’21, the BOF omitted a planned $650,000 capital borrowing expense for a new fire truck. The controversial decision was the topic of various workshops held by the BOF, and a source of contention at the budget’s public hearing on May 5.
The economic ramifications of the pandemic on Deep River’s taxpayers played a large part in the BOF’s decision to exclude this item from the budget.
“We are trying to establish a balance...preparing for what appears to be a troublesome economic year at the state level, which does not bode well for the town,” said McDonald. “The unknown of what is going to happen at the state level makes it very difficult to pursue some capital items that we want to have. We just have to hold off on it to see how the state makes out. I know the state is doing as much as it can [but] they are burning through money. We are going to do our best to try to make sure our [town] services don’t suffer.”
At its May 18 meeting, the BOF also set tax deadlines for real estate, personal property, and motor vehicle taxes and is expecting to receive $15,312,692 in tax revenue this year, an increase of $341,582 or 2.28 percent.
Despite a tax collection rate of 98 percent, Deep River is readying for a delay in tax collection as a lower-interest-rate program on delinquent taxes will be offered to taxpayers for a 90-day period this year, one of two options allowed by Governor Ned Lamont’s executive orders.
The town is considering using tax anticipation note borrowing of up to $4 million to cover the financial needs of the town during the time period of the lower-interest-rate program, when the town may be receiving less revenue than usual.
“We are going to work next week to give ourselves the ability to do it,” McDonald said the potential borrowing. “We don’t want to do it unless we need to.”