Mayor Mark Lauretti has proposed a new city budget that would raise spending 1.8%, with almost all of the new money going to the Board of Education (BOE).
The mayor’s budget plan would keep the mill rate stable, meaning taxes would neither go up nor down.
His proposal would increase the school system budget by about half as much as requested by the BOE and, according to education officials, would jeopardize the implementation of full-day kindergarten.
“Shelton families are working harder and longer hours and they are not better off today than yesterday. The more they make, the more their governments seem to take,” said Lauretti, while releasing his budget at an early Friday evening joint meeting of the Board of Aldermen and the city Board of Apportionment and Taxation (A&T).
“Consequently, my budget concentrates on fiscal stability, focusing on the needs of the community and the ability of city residents to make ends meet,” Lauretti said.
School system to get $2m more
Under Lauretti’s plan, the city budget would increase by $2.12 million to $117.9 million in the upcoming fiscal year, which begins July 1.
Of that total $2.12 million increase, the BOE would receive $2 million. That would represent a 3% increase in school spending on the operating side. The BOE had requested a $3.5 million increase, or 5.4% more than the current fiscal year.
Lauretti also has proposed giving the BOE $500,000 in new capital funds, which are outside the operating budget.
“Historically, education costs have risen far in excess of the growth of the city grand list [tax base], a trend that cannot continue when the taxpayers are suffering reduced disposable income,” the mayor said.
BOE officials appeared disappointed in the allotment, noting the amount needed to pay for increases in school employee salaries, benefits and transportation costs is higher than the increase proposed by the mayor.
They said this means full-day kindergarten is unlikely to happen in the fall, although they expressed optimism they might be able to increase their allocation during the budget process by working with the aldermen, A&T members and the mayor.
BOE chair: Not enough for full-day K
Mark Holden, BOE chairman, said the mayor’s proposal — as it now stands — would not make full-day K doable.
“We would like to be able to do full-day kindergarten but there’s a limit to what we can do if the city is not increasing our allocation as much as our expenses,” said Holden, who is a Republican like Lauretti.
“The mayor’s proposal is less than our rollover amount,” said Holden, with the “rollover” being the amount of money needed to pay for the status quo plus contractual salary and benefit obligations and other expenses the BOE doesn’t view as being flexible.
Teachers, who make up most BOE employees, will receive a 2.75% pay increase next year.
Holden said he hoped the BOE’s allocation would increase from the mayor’s proposal during the budget process. “Hopefully we can make some inroads and progress with the two boards,” he said, referring to the Board of Aldermen and Board of A&T.
‘Hope this is a starting point’
School Supt. Freeman Burr echoed Holden’s remarks, indicating a desire to see the BOE allotment go up from what the mayor has proposed.
“I hope this is a starting point and there will be discussions with the aldermen, A&T and mayor so we’ll get to a better place,” Burr said.
According to the BOE requested budget, full-day kindergarten would cost $948,000 in the first year and require $368,000 in new operating funds. Based on the BOE plan, some of the money required for full-day K would be countered by having fewer elementary school teachers, and some would come from capital funding on the city side of the budget.
Many parents have been pushing for full-day K in Shelton, with all other towns in Fairfield County now offering an all-day kindergarten program.
Mayor: BOE always wants more
Lauretti said the BOE always is seeking more money than is realistic and therefore is unhappy with what it ends up with when the budget is finalized.
“They say that every year,” he said of their concerns.
In his budget address, Lauretti said student enrollment continues to decline and he pointed out new propane school buses were purchased with city money that have lowered the BOE’s transportation costs.
He said it’s up to the BOE to determine how to spend its increased allocation — and whether that will include starting full-day K.
“They have to figure it out,” Lauretti said. “If it was me, I could figure it out.”
Hailing the city’s ‘affordability’
During his budget remarks, Lauretti said Shelton continues to thrive compared to many other towns. “The hallmark of Shelton’s continued economic success has been its ability to retain its financial competitiveness while enjoying a high quality of life,” he said.
He said “affordability” is what sets Shelton apart, noting in the past six years the city’s tax rate has gone down twice and been unchanged three times. “Simply put,” Lauretti said, “we predictably remain a city that is affordable from year to year, as this is so important for businesses and residential property owners alike.”
He also said his proposed new budget includes continued investments in infrastructure, such as roads, open space, and school building upgrades and technology.
The mayor’s proposal next goes to the Board of A&T for action, and then to the Board of Aldermen. Approval of the final budget usually takes place in May. The new fiscal year begins July 1.
Simple budget breakdown
Here are the basic figures in Mayor Mark Lauretti’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2014-15, which begins July 1:
OVERALL CITY BUDGET:
$115,828,907 (current city budget)
$117,945,680 (proposed new city budget)
$2,116,773 (proposed spending increase)
BOARD OF EDUCATION
PART OF THE BUDGET:
$65,600,000 (current BOE budget)
$67,600,000 (proposed new BOE budget)
$2,000,000 (proposed spending increase)
Note: The BOE had requested a budget of $69,120,000, or +5.4%
22.31 mills (current rate)
22.31 mills (proposed new rate)