Lauretti proposes flat-spending budget with slight tax decrease

Mayor Mark Lauretti has proposed a $115.49 million budget that would decrease taxes by 0.5%.

“There is no doubt that a stable mill rate will create more economic opportunities,” Lauretti said. “This year will be no exception."

The mayor unveiled his budget at a joint meeting of the Board of Aldermen and Board of Apportionment & Taxation on early Thursday evening.

Lauretti has proposed the city spend $115,492,006 in the upcoming fiscal year, which will begin July 1.

Under his proposal, the mill rate would drop from 22.4 mills to 22.3 mills, representing an exact tax decrease of 0.45%.

Schools would get 2.6% more

Based on a spreadsheet on the mayor's proposal distributed at his presentation, the Board of Education would receive $65.4 million, or a 2.6% increase, compared to the school board’s request for $66.8 million, or a 4.9% increase. The current education budget is $63.7 million.

During an interview, Lauretti said the Board of Education also will have additional money to spend due to the savings from the city purchasing propane-powered school buses. This should lower the school system’s transportation contract and fuel costs.

“The Board of Education will get 90% of what they’re looking for,” Lauretti said. “And with the other 10%, I’ll help get them over the line.”

Impact on people's tax bill

If the mayor’s proposal should be enacted, someone whose home is assessed at $100,000 would see their $2,230 tax bill go down by $10; someone whose home is assessed at $150,000 would see their $3,360 tax bill reduced by $15; and someone whose home is assessed at $225,000 would see their $5,040 tax bill go down by $22.

Real estate is assessed at 70% of market value in the state of Connecticut.

Two boards will now act on the proposal

The mayor’s plan now moves on to the Board of Apportionment & Taxation and then the Board of Aldermen for further action.

Lauretti noted this will be his 22nd year proposing and working to pass a budget. “As I have said over the years, the budget process is five-and-a-half months long and some information will change, requiring the Board of Aldermen to make adjustments,” he said.

Schools get more but overall spending flat

Lauretti said Shelton has thrived despite many challenges, such as a national recession, major weather events (hurricanes, snowstorms, etc.), costly state and federal mandates, and this year’s smaller-than-usual 0.5% increase in the city’s grand list (or tax base).

“We, in Shelton, have broken the norm,” he said. “While increasing revenue to the Board of Education budget, overall spending will remain flat.”

The city’s current overall budget is $115,555,564, according to the spreadsheet, so the mayor’s proposal would actually lower the amount being spent by a minimal amount on a year-to-year basis.

Lauretti said the city of Shelton has become more efficient in delivering municipal services while limiting spending increases. “The result is — no reduction of services and tax stability,” he said.

Points to progress in city

Lauretti also highlighted some of the progress being made in the city, including new development along the downtown riverfront, road and park improvements, open space purchases, school security measures, buying new public works equipment, successful recycling programs, and construction of a new animal shelter.

“There are reasons why private investors continue to show interest in Shelton,” he said. “Quality of life and tax stability are items that residents and our corporate partners can count on.”

Critical of state and federal actions

Lauretti made several references to what he considers to be the obstacles created by the state and national governments, including mandates such as President Barack Obama’s national healthcare program, more of which will come into effect next year.

He said unlike those in control in Hartford and Washington, “Shelton has managed its resources well, not spending more than it makes. That makes me grateful to those department heads and bargaining units who have worked in the best interests of our city.”

Initial aldermanic reaction

Alderman John F. Anglace Jr., board president, said his initial reaction is that Lauretti’s proposal “suits my expectations.”

Anglace said the city administration has been successfully working with the Board of Education on ways to hold down costs, such as the plan approved to switch to city-owned propane-fueled buses to transport students, while also paying for needed security and technology upgrades in the schools. “This is paying dividends,” said Anglace, who is a Republican like Lauretti.

Anglace said the city’s debt service as “very manageable” due to low interest rates, so making investments in certain infrastructure makes sense. “Now is the time to do it,” he said.

Alderman Jack Finn, a Democrat, said he had expected Lauretti to propose lowering the tax rate. “Being an election year, I was anticipating a decrease in the mill rate,” Finn said. “Any decrease is good for residents who are having a tough time in our community.”

Finn said he is concerned about a proposed $30,000 decrease in allocations to the fire department to help pay for liability insurance at firehouses. The city has four volunteer fire companies. Finn is a volunteer firefighter.

In response, Lauretti said there will be adequate funds for the firehouses. “It’s a reduction in that account but there’s also compensation elsewhere,” he said, explaining the budget process can involve changing how certain line items are funded.