Thursday, September 23, 2021

Local News

Clinton Budget Proposal, Up 4.9%, Offsets Increase with Grand List Growth, Fund Balance

At a special meeting on Feb. 9, Town Manager Karl Kilduff presented the Town Council with his initial proposed budget, which increases spending but decreases the tax rate. The total proposed budget is $59,012,976, a 4.86 percent or $2,733,388 increase from the current year’s budget.

The total budget is made up of a town budget and an education budget. The proposed education budget is $37,645,223, a $932,949 or 2.54 percent increase. The proposed town budget is $21,367,752, a $1,799,050 or 9.19 percent increase, largely driven by increased capital spending (spending on items that last longer than a budget cycle, like vehicles or roof repairs).

While spending increases under this proposed budget, the tax rate would decrease 1.31 percent due to growth in the town’s Grand List and a larger appropriation from the town’s fund balance to offset capital projects. The mill rate would decrease 0.41 mills or 1.31 percent to 30.84 mills.

“The drop in the mill rate is partially a function of growth in the Grand List,” Kilduff told the Harbor News following the meeting. “To try and control the mill rate further, the use of fund balance was increased. Using $350,000, instead of $250,000 historically, is a onetime increase to cushion the taxpayer. Additional fund balance is also being used as a revenue to fund capital projects, again to control the tax rate. Last year we started including the use of fund balance to finance capital projects in the budget, rather than a separate action which was decided outside of the budget process.”

On the town side, the proposed budget is made up of an operating budget of $16,625,779 (a $144,844 or 0.88 increase), debt service of $2,025,259 (a $256,785 or 11.25 percent decrease), and a capital budget of $2,716,714 (a $1,771,389 or 187.38 percent increase). The proposed education budget is composed of an operating budget of $34,171,057 (a $970,666 or 2.92 percent increase), debt service of $3,136,159 (a $179,392 or 6.07 percent increase), and a capital budget of $338,007 (a $76,119 or an 18.38 percent decrease.)

Though both the town and education budgets comprise the total budget, when voters get to approve the budget at a referendum in May they will vote on the town and education budgets separately.

During the meeting, Kilduff said there will further conversations among council members about the capital budget. That budget is projected to increase sharply, in part due to the police body- and vehicle cameras that are now required by the police accountability law passed by the legislature during the summer. That project alone is budgeted at $250,000 in Kilduff’s proposed budget and it isn’t the only project aimed at improving the town’s emergency responses.

“The law requires cameras to be in place by July 1, 2022. This means that cost needs to be fully funded this year. Additionally, the radio system that drives emergency dispatch and radios used by police, fire, and public works reached the end of its service life and is no longer supported by the manufacturer. That creates uncertainty over replacement radios and parts to keep the system operational. A replacement project needs to be funded to make sure we have a working radio system in the town. This is a significant cost project,” Kilduff said.

During the presentation, Kilduff noted that the proposed budget was subject to change as some of the numbers that went into the budget are assumptions. For example, when Kilduff made his presentation, Governor Ned Lamont’s budget had yet to be made public and the amount of municipal aid and Educational Cost Sharing (ECS) funding coming to Clinton was not known yet.

In a Feb. 11 email, Kilduff told the Harbor News that employee healthcare costs for the town and Board of Education are coming in lower than expected, so that presents an opportunity to reduce the budgets without affecting services or programs. Additionally, Lamont’s state budget presented on Feb. 10 gives Clinton level funding in ECS, where Kilduff’s presented budget the day before assumed the level would drop. Clinton had a $5,192,084 in ECS in last year’s budget.

“Putting together the budget is an evolutionary process that requires dialogue and direction from the council. I have a number of areas that require some council input and direction to help put the best budget possible forward for the public hearing in April. I keep looking for other areas to control our expenses and will offer up areas on the town side of the budget that can be changed. As we get positive feedback on our assumptions, we can improve the budget,” Kilduff said.

The Process

The Feb. 9 meeting was called so that Kilduff, Board of Education Chair Erica Gelven, and Superintendent of Schools Maryann O’Donnell could make a presentation on the initial proposed town and education budgets to the council members. As it was intended to be an overview, specific line items were not discussed and Town Council Chair Chris Aniskovich asked the council members to save any questions or discussion for the upcoming budget workshops.

More in-depth discussions will be held at the workshops and subsequent meetings. The Town Council will finalize the budget proposal that will be sent to a public hearing.

Now that the proposed budget has been presented, the council will have budget workshops with each department head where the council will review the proposed budgets line by line. The workshops are scheduled for 7 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 18; Tuesday, Feb. 23; and Thursday, Feb. 25. A complete schedule for the workshops is available on the town’s website.

Following all the workshops, the council will hold a special meeting scheduled for Tuesday, March 2 at 7 p.m. to vote on Kilduff’s proposed budget. At that meeting the council can accept or ask for changes to be made to Kilduff’s proposed budget. The proposed budget approved by the Town Council in March will be sent to a public hearing scheduled for Wednesday, April 7 at 6 p.m.

At the public hearing, speakers can voice their opinions for or against either the education or town budget. Immediately following the public hearing, the Town Council will hold a special meeting at which it can make any last changes to either the education or town budget before sending the budget to referendum in May.

At the referendum residents vote to approve or reject the proposed town and education budgets individually. Since voters cast their vote for each budget separately, that means it is possible for voters to pass one budget and reject the other in the same referendum.

If one or both of the budgets fail, it is revised by the Town Council immediately following the vote. Another public hearing is held the following week and another referendum is held the week after the public hearing.

In 2020 the budget referendum was canceled due to an executive order from Lamont that gave the legislative bodies of each municipality the authority to set its own budget due to concerns about the ability to safely vote during the COVID-19 pandemic. The order came down shortly after the council had voted to approve a proposed budget to public hearing. Following a public hearing the council then made changes to the proposed budget so that taxes would not be raised during the pandemic. The council then unanimously approved its budget in late May 2020.

Kilduff said he was operating under the assumption that this year there would be a referendum as usual. Kilduff reiterated more than once that there is time for changes to come that could change the numbers presented on Feb 9.

The Harbor News/Zip06.com will follow all updates about the budget process.


Eric O’Connell covers news for Clinton for Zip06. Email Eric at e.oconnell@shorepublishing.com.

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