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Branford's 2020-21 Town budget comes in at $118,017,243; following a 16-13 decision split along party lines at the May 19 special budget meeting of the Representative Town Meeting (RTM). Led by the RTM Republican majority, the May 19 vote cut $221,200 from the Board of Finance's (BOF) recommended budget of $118,232,443.
The budget provides $58,834,365 for all town departments and $58,828,962 for the Board of Education.
The most contentious debate was on the Blackstone Library's BOF recommended budget, which took a reduction of $45,000 in operating expenses and a move of $17,000 from capital project spending to contingency (see "RTM Battles Over Blackstone Budget").
The $118M budget represents an annual spending increase of approximately 2.35 percent. The new budget will deliver Branford a slightly lower mill rate; which will be set by the BOF ahead of the start of the new fiscal year on July 1, 2020. Branford's current mill rate is 29.07.
The mill rate will be reduced despite the overall budget expenditure increase, due in large part infusing anticipated revenues of $14,142,457 with $3,702,000 from the Town's general fund balance. The allocation from the fund balance also takes into account the possibility of a slightly lower tax collection rate in 2020-21 due to COVID-19 impacts, estimating it will go down from 98.35 percent taxes collected to 98 percent. Branford's estimated net grand list for 2020-21 is $3,680,000,000; an increase of $115,000,000 year to year.
Ahead of the vote May 19 RTM vote on the budget, Democratic Minority Leader Tom Brockett (D, District 7) said the Town's administration failed to respond to the Democratic Minority's written request seeking adjustments to the budget as the COVID-19 pandemic took hold; however, later in the meeting First Selectman Jamie Cosgrove (R) sought to set the record straight with regard to the request, which Cosgrove noted had been sent to the BOF; not the administration. Cosgrove also pointed to the BOF's budget transmittal letter to the RTM which included specific adjustments in the document addressing the potential of the crisis.
Brockett's request had sought the review of every department in the budget to ensure that all measures were being taken to prepare for challenges in the new fiscal year and economic impacts that could be facing Branford residents. Brockett made note of that in a statement he read on behalf of his Democratic RTM caucus on May 19, saying, in part, "Branford deserves better," and that his caucus would not support the budget.
"This budget fails to set aside any funds to assist our businesses and residents in the battle against the corona virus and its aftermath. It fails to invest in our people and our businesses," Brockett stated, in part. "It fails to reflect the financial pain many of our taxpayers will feel, and it fails to provide pandemic related assistance to Branford's students, residents, and businesses."
Brockett's statement also noted, "... The Board of Finance made some cuts and shuffled other funds to pay for projects in the original budget. The RTM followed suit and made minimal cuts. The end result is a proposed budget that increases by more than $2.4 million. While there may be only a minimal change in the mill rate, your taxes will increase if your assessment increased. The budget also relies on the assumption that 98% of all taxes will be paid to the town. We can only hope that holds true."
Several GOP members of the RTM as well as Cosgrove responded to Brockett's statement. Representative George Wells (R, District 1) called it "political theater," asking Brockett, "Why now, when you could make this points in committee?"
Cosgrove said the BOF had made "...many adjustments to this budget [and] if you read the letter of transmittal, it's very clear the Board of Finance took into consideration the virus."
Cosgrove described a number of budget actions taken to ease the impact to taxpayers next year; including paying for some needs using current-year budget monies available; transferring in more money from fund balance, and most recently, the RTM's vote to approve Branford's three-month tax deferral program for all taxpayers (for new payments due March 10 — July 1, 2020).
"To make a statement that the administration is not in tune with the needs of the community is false," said Cosgrove.
With regard to the night's budget vote, Cosgrove said it represented the culmination of months of work which began with department heads developing their budgets and working with the administration and finance to provide the best level of service, meet program needs and invest in infrastructure in a way that's fiscally responsible to taxpayers; then sent to BOF as document for consideration. The BOF's bipartisan, appointed board (currently led by longstanding chairman Joseph Mooney, a Democrat) reviews department requests with department heads; makes its recommendation, and transmits it to the RTM. The RTM committee's review their respective areas of budget purview during at least two meetings, including meeting with department heads. Committee members the vote on a recommendation to bring to the full RTM.
"That is the decision that is before you now," Cosgrove said the full RTM on May 19, adding, "...to vote on what the department heads need [is] a balancing act, in terms of providing programs and services and investing in our infrastructure with sensible tax rate."
While also noting, "...next year may be very difficult," Cosgrove assured the full RTM that the Town will meet the challenges.
"We're not just looking at this year's budget. My administration, from day one, has always looked at further years," said Cosgrove.
Get ready to celebrate the holidays with our helpful guide
The 2020 Member Directory and Town Guide for Branford, Guilford, North Branford, and Northford has arrived!