The Shelton Board of Apportionment and Taxation (A&T), at its meeting Wednesday, May 1, delivered its recommended budget for 2019-20 to the city’s Board of Alderman — most notably, calling for a slight hike in taxes over the mill rate proposed by Mayor Mark Lauretti.
All totaled, the A&T’s recommended budget came to $128.5 million — approximately $930,000 higher than Lauretti’s recommended expenditure of $127.6 million. The major driver behind the recommended increase is the Board of Education budget, which, if approved, would increase $408,701 ($72,700,000 to $73,108,701). A&T also recommended that the Board of Aldermen cover $814,217 in the city budget for new textbooks and technology.
Both the mayor’s and the A&T’s proposed mill rates would result in tax increases for property owners. At 22.62 mills, Lauretti’s proposal would raise taxes by 2.12 percent, while the A&T’s proposed mill rate of 22.82 would raise them by 3 percent. Among the financial realities the A&T dealt with is that wages are set to go up from 2 percent to 2.5 percent in all city departments in the upcoming year.
Underlying A&T’s budget recommendations were measures it proposed to soften the impact of cuts to the education budget, as well as trimming the budgets of departments that with a history of under-spending previous budget "allocations.
“What we present to you tonight is a [recommended] mill rate of 22.82 — a slight increase over the mayor’s recommendation,” said A&T Board Chair Karen Battistelli. “This is needed in part to meet the needs of the Board of Education, because it did not receive its required funding. We’ve also recommended several line items to be reduced to better meet the spending habits of their respective areas.”
A&T’s budget proposals now go before the Board of Aldermen, which has scheduled a budget public hearing at 7 p.m. on May 13 in the City Hall auditorium.
“I am hopeful that the Board of Aldermen will take the recommendations of the A&T board seriously,” said school Superintendent Dr. Chris Clouet. “Their acknowledgment that we need adequate funding to prepare our students for their future lives is thoughtful, and it is well within the wider city expectation of being a low-tax community.”
The most debated reduction comes in the police department budget. A&T has recommended the police budget be reduced from the mayor’s proposed $7,853,494 to $7,660,984, a $192,000 difference. The department had funds allocated last year to cover the cost of hiring 10 additional officers, however, the department hired just one new officer — leaving a large surplus of unused funds. Battistelli noted that should the police require more funding during the year to cover a hiring upswing, it could do so by requesting a budget transfer.
“What we ended up with in the police department cuts was, in my opinion, very modest,” Battistelli said. “The police can come to us to request that [additional funding needed].”
A&T member Michelle Laubin pointed out that it is inefficient to allocate taxpayer dollars that ultimately go unspent.
“We have another department — the Board of Education — that is being flat funded,” Laubin said. “At the end of the day, this board had a strong feeling that the police department budget should not be cut by any more than you see here.”
Battistelli described this board’s proposal as a wise compromise.
“From our perspective, it is unfair to allow for increases in the city side and not on the Board of Ed side,” said Battistelli. “They already have cut 14 teachers.”
The meeting was not without its tense moments, as several aldermen challenged the police department cuts. Several said the leaner budget would hamstring the police from meeting their hiring goals.
“You don’t have a cushion in your budget?” asked Alderman Anthony Simonetti, sitting across from A&T board member Joe Knapik.
“There wouldn’t have been a problem if the police had actually hired more officers,” responded Knapik. “Other towns do it [via budget transfers].”
Board of Aldermen President John Anglace seemed to strike a conciliatory note. He noted that the aldermen and Board of Ed representatives have agreed to meet on a quarterly and yearly basis to ensure everyone is on the same page regarding expenditures and budgetary requirements.
“This has never been done before [in Shelton],” said Anglace.“We want to make sure we understand where they’ve allocated their funds, and that the line-item accounting method they use is the same as we have in all other town departments.”
Anglace also noted that the Board of Ed accounts for half of the city’s spending. “With all that we have to do, we have to strike a balance,” Anglace said. “The service they [the Board of Ed] provide is probably the most valuable in our community.”