Lauretti’s budget: No tax hike, school board request cut by more than half

Mayor Mark Lauretti has proposed a budget increase of 1.7% for upcoming fiscal year 2015-16, with no tax increase. The new municipal budget would be $120.69 million.

“By now you know my position — hold the line on taxes, look for creative ways to save money, and build the future based on those savings and attracting new private firms willing to invest in Shelton, thereby growing our grand list,” Lauretti said in his budget presentation on Monday night at City Hall.

Lauretti’s proposal would cut the Board of Education’s (BOE) requested budget increase by more than half, from almost 5% to close to 2%. In real dollars, that would mean about $2.7 million less for the schools than requested.

Lauretti said the BOE continues to ask for more money at a time when student enrollment is declining. “If the Board of Education wishes to continue to play Santa Claus with our money, then they will have to find ways to fund it within the funds allocated,” he said.

If the mayor’s proposed budget should be enacted, people’s taxes would remain unchanged, as the tax rate would stay at 22.31 mills. The new fiscal year will begin July 1.

Recessions and mandates

Lauretti noted it was his 24th budget presentation as mayor, and during that tenure the city has dealt with economic recessions and many new state mandates.

Shelton will benefit from a grand list that grew by almost 1% in the past year, the Republican mayor said, and companies continue to inquire about moving to Shelton.

Lauretti pointed to United Healthcare and Unilever as two firms that have created 1,500 jobs in the city in the recent past. “That is a good sign for our future,” he said.
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Board of Education

Mill Rate

He said while some municipal departments may seek spending increases of 5%, the city can’t afford that when the tax base is growing by much less.

Lauretti’s budget plan keeps spending relatively flat for most departments, with some minor increases or decreases. More substantial increases are proposed for the police department at $371,000 more and the assessor’s office at $256,000 more, primarily to prepare for the revaluation process in the future.

BOE reaction: 'Just do the math'

BOE member Arlene Liscinsky, who chairs the school board’s Finance Committee, said the BOE’s rollover budget alone is more than what the mayor has recommended giving the school system.

The rollover budget is what it would cost to provide the same level of services, based primarily on higher costs for employee salaries and benefits due to union contracts.

“If you just do the math,” Liscinsky said, the mayor’s proposal “won’t cover that.”

Lauretti has proposed giving the BOE $69.34 million, or $1.5 million more than in the current year, while the school board has requested $72.05 million, or $4.2 million more.

According to earlier budget material presented by school Superintendent Freeman Burr, the BOE rollover cost is $2.46 million for the upcoming fiscal year.

Liscinsky, a Democrat, said another major expense is special education due to required programs and more students needing such services.

She was upset at Lauretti’s comment on Santa Claus. “I don’t think there’s a need to say we’re celebrating Christmas again,” Liscinsky said. “I don’t think that’s professional for a budget presentation.”

The BOE will have to make its case as the budget process moves forward, she said, and it will be up to parents and other education supporters to turn out to push for more education money than the mayor has suggested.

Education mandates

BOE Vice Chairman Thomas Minotti said he worries about how much Lauretti wants to cut the BOE’s request, noting many of the expenses are related to mandates beyond the school district’s control.

“We don’t want to go through what we did in 2009. That was horrendous,” he said of a year when the school system had to make major spending cuts. Minotti is a Republican.

Lauretti, in comments after his presentation, said the BOE continues to request millions of dollars more in spending every year. “How do you justify that?” he asked.

He said the BOE always complains that any cuts in its request will be detrimental, but eventually makes the needed adjustments. “We’ve been in this position before and the sun always comes up in the morning,” Lauretti said.

Next up in process is Board of A&T

The budget now moves on to the Board of Apportionment and Taxation (A&T), which begins three weeks of budget meetings on March 23. After the Board of A&T acts, the Board of Aldermen will review and vote on the budget.

“I wish you well in your deliberations,” Lauretti said.

Board of Aldermen President John Anglace said the aldermen will scrutinize the proposed budget. “We’ll sift it out during the process,” said Anglace, a Republican.

He said it appears the mayor wants to spend about $2 million more than in the current year, and that’s a “great start” as the budget process gets under way. Most of that increase would go to education.

The lone Democratic alderman, Jack Finn, said he preferred to have a chance to look at the budget in more detail before offering comments.

As of Monday night, Finn said, the city hadn’t loaded the new proposed budget onto the computers used by elected officials during the budget process.

The current city budget is $118.63 million. The tax rate did not change at the start of the current, 2014-15, fiscal year, in July 2014.