Shelton mayor’s budget includes no tax hike
SHELTON — Mayor Mark Lauretti has proposed a “flat-funded” budget in order to maintain the present mill rate for the 2020-21 fiscal year.
Lauretti, in a joint virtual meeting with the Board of Aldermen and Board of Apportionment and Taxation Tuesday, proposed a budget of $128,182,039, a $610,565 increase from the present year’s budget, which maintains the 22.42 mill rate.
“There will not be any increases in budgets,” said Lauretti. “I am presenting a budget designed to maintain current levels of city services and without causing a major adverse financial impact on our citizens’ households.
Lauretti’s plan drops the anticipated tax collection rate to 98 percent and reduces the revenue estimate on motor vehicles by $200,000 creating what he called a “significant drop in cash” which will “certainly impact the ability to pay bills for vital services.”
Before Lauretti’s budget presentation, the Board of Aldermen approved the new budget calendar, which does not include a public hearing as in years past. The Board of A&T must submit a recommended budget to the Board of Aldermen by June 1. The aldermen will complete their review by June 14, with a budget adoption no later than June 30.
Board of Aldermen President John Anglace Jr. said, with the coronavirus pandemic preventing any public gatherings at least through May 20, the aldermen will be accepting emailed public comment to the city’s website.
Lauretti said last week that “raising taxes is off the table. People are going to have to do more with less, even the Board of Education.” He reiterated that stance Tuesday.
“Never before in 29 years have I been faced with such a daunting task with a life and death crisis facing the citizens of our city, state, nation and the entire world,” said Lauretti. “Never in our lifetime has a disease so seriously impacted our personal safety, our economy and our way of life.”
Lauretti said city tax revenues during the first 120 days of the 2020-21 fiscal year are “uncertain as will be household income due to unemployment and the closing of businesses of all sizes. The only thing we don’t know is how deep the damage will be or for how long it will last, creating tax collection and cash flow uncertainty.
“I am appealing to those taxpayers and those businesses who possess the fiscal ability to step up and pay their taxes as soon as possible. That will be a big help,” he said.
The Board of Education had proposed a $75,083,945 budget — an increase of $2,318,945, or 3.19 percent. The school budget request maintains present services with money set aside for a new pre-K teacher and curriculum writing.
Board of Education Chair Kathy Yolish, now faced with the prospect of no additional funding, said the “impact of alternative economic scenarios for our Board of Education will be both challenging and very discouraging to say the least.
“We will need to find at least $2.9 million in cuts from our budget, according to our finance director, Rick Belden. At our final special board budget meeting, our entire board collaboratively and unanimously voted on a budget that we felt was fair, even though we would have liked to add a few more items,” said Yolish.
The Board of Education will hold a special virtual finance committee meeting at 5 p.m. on April 28, and Yolish said she will ask for a special Board of Education virtual meeting April 30 to look for suggestions to make up the loss.
“We are aware that the majority of our budget is comprised of salaries and benefits,” said Yolish. “I am hopeful that the city tax revenues will not be as severely impacted as mentioned and that the mayor will work with the board to provide additional funding to reinstate the positions and items that we may have to eliminate.”
Normally, Lauretti said he would look to the state for assistance but reports from the Governing Newsletter state Connecticut is expecting a $500 million shortfall in the current fiscal year and a $1.4 billion deficit next year.
“I am concerned that our major state revenues, such as the ECS Grant, will be continued at least at current levels,” said Lauretti. “Once again, municipalities are in the position of having to adopt a budget without accurate state budget revenue information.”
Lauretti said fiscal relief in the CARES Act was largely limited to states, as well as localities, with populations larger than 500,000.
“Shelton received nothing,” said Lauretti. “Smaller cities are hoping they can count on direct assistance from the federal government in the near future. That is uncertain, but it sure would help."
Lauretti said Shelton, and all municipalities, will be dealing with the coronavirus and its fallout for months to come. Federal government stimulus is now at $2 trillion, according to the mayor, and that will continue to grow.
“It begs the questions who will be asked to pay that back and how it will be done, adding more pressure on the average taxpayer and business,” said Lauretti. “State and federal governments should not pick and choose what sectors of society will pay and who gets relief, as we have experienced through the Governor’s executive orders. Everyone must share in the economic burden.”