MONROE — Residents’ access to the Board of Finance’s budget public hearing tonight is right at their fingertips.

To participate in the hearing at 7 p.m., residents can call 978-990-5215 and enter access code 1161694#. Written comments can be submitted up to one hour in advance of the meeting. To submit written comments, click on this link and fill out the form or send an email to Budget@MonroeCT.org.

The Board of Finance, because of coronavirus pandemic measures, has final authority to approve the town’s 2020-21 budget. A second public hearing is planned before the board is expected to vote on the final proposal May 14.

The proposed budget stands at $91,534,191, a $3,681,314 increase from the present fiscal year’s budget. The Town Council’s budget is a 4.19 percent hike from last year and would result in a mill rate of 36.51, a 2.6 percent tax hike, if approved.

First Selectman Ken Kellogg has asked the Board of Finance not to increase the tax rate, considering the dire economic circumstances befalling so many during the pandemic.

Board of Finance Chair Michael Manjos has backed Kellogg, and, in a statement read during the finance board’s last meeting, offered steps — including using some $7 million of the city’s general fund, cutting some $1.5 million in expenses and adjusting the tax collection rate down — needed to ease the burden on taxpayers over at least the next fiscal year.

"The economic impact will be widespread and, although potentially temporary, as a town, I believe we need to prepare for diminished and deferred revenues,” said Manjos. “In this environment, the concept of increasing spending and raising the mill rate seems unfathomable and immoral.”

Manjos recommended using all but $2 million of the town’s fund balance, which is estimated to be at $10.3 million as of June 30, to meet necessary expenses.

“I often describe the fund balance as our rainy-day fund,” said Manjos, “and I think we all realize this is a 100-year storm.”

Manjos also recommended that all capital projects be deferred for one year, and he asked that Kellogg and acting schools Superintendent Joseph Kobza reach out to unions to defer all contractual raises for one year.

The collection rate must also be lowered to between 88 and 90 percent assuming tax payments will be deferred and the town may see business bankruptcies, he said.

“If we are unable to obtain contractual adjustments, we will unfortunately be forced to make service and educational cuts,” said Manjos. “If the collection rate comes in stronger, we can use the surplus revenue to replace the fund balance.

“I understand this is a one-time fix and that next year’s budget and mill rate hike will potentially be much larger than normal and difficult to swallow due to these changes,” added Manjos, “but I believe we have no choice. We need to do everything we can to help our fellow citizens during this difficult and challenging time.”

brian.gioiele@hearstmediact.com