MONROE — The 2020-21 town budget will be approved by the Board of Finance, not a townwide referendum.

The Town Council, during its first remote electronic public meeting April 6, voted unanimously to grant the finance board the power to adopt the budget. The action comes in response to Gov. Ned Lamont’s executive order designed to eliminate large gatherings in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

“This was not taken lightly,” said town attorney Frank Lieto, adding that he and First Selectman Ken Kellogg spent hundreds of hours crafting the resolution. “We did everything in our power to see if we could craft a resolution that could salvage the referendum if the opportunity arose.”

The proposed budget stands at $91,534,191, a $3,681,314 increase from the present fiscal year’s budget. The Town Council presented the budget, a 4.19 percent hike from last year which would result in a mill rate of 36.51 if approved, to the Board of Finance on March 15.

The original plan was to hold the referendum May 5, but all the schedules were created before the COVID-19 pandemic appeared with schools and many businesses closed and gatherings limited to no more than five people.

According to the approved resolution, the Board of Finance must hold at least one remote electronic public meeting on the proposed budget. The finance board must then finish its proposed budget no later than May 20. The board’s proposed budget will then be posted on the town’s website.

The Board of Finance must vote on the final budget between June 2 and 5, at a remote electronic public meeting at which residents will have “an opportunity to be heard regarding the proposed annual budget.” Written comments can be submitted before the meeting as well.

Lieto credited Kellogg for his desire to keep the referendum option available in case the pandemic subsided quickly and the governor lifted the executive orders.

“We did what we could do to determine if we could take a wait-and-see approach and salvage the referendum that we all hold so dear,” said Lieto, adding that Kellogg went “above and beyond” to verify that there was no way around the governor’s mandate.

“I want to thank him for that; citizens will thank him for that,” said Lieto about Kellogg.

Kevin Reid led his fellow council members in not only thanking Kellogg but also Lieto for his efforts as town attorney.

“Frank has been fantastic,” said Reid about the former Town Council chair who is not known for seeking the spotlight. “I know you didn’t go to law school to learn how to manage a pandemic for a municipality. We got elected … we took this on. You did not, and I cannot thank you enough.”

Town Council members also credited the town hall for their continued efforts in assisting town residents.

“Everybody in Town Hall is working their behinds off to try and deliver the same essential services for the community so we don’t miss a beat.,” said Lieto.

brian.gioiele@hearstmediact.com