SHELTON — The Board of Aldermen adopted Mayor Mark’s Lauretti’s proposed 2020-21 fiscal year budget Friday, but Alderman David Gidwani claims a disconnected phone line prevented his ‘no’ vote.

Gidwani, who had called in to the meeting, said his call was disconnected, and he was unable to vote “no” and make a statement about Lauretti’s proposed budget of $128,182,039, which includes a $610,565 overall increase over this past year while flat funding the education budget.

With the budget approval, the city’s mill rate will remain 22.42 mills. Because of coronavirus pandemic shutdowns, the budget anticipates a tax collection rate of 98 percent and reduces the revenue estimate on motor vehicles by $200,000, creating what Lauretti calls a “significant drop in cash” that will “certainly impact the ability to pay bills for vital services.”

Gidwani said he was unhappy his vote did not get to be counted during the meeting.

“To whoever at city hall disconnected me, shame on you,” Gidwani posted on his Facebook page immediately as the meeting adjourned.

Lauretti, when asked after the meeting, said the individual handling the technology never saw Gidwani’s number as disconnected from the call and stated he had plenty of opportunity to speak up when the aldermen voted to adjourn the meeting.

The disconnected call from a dissenter is the latest twist in what has been a contentious budget process, which began in April with Lauretti’s presentation of his budget and featured clashes with Democratic members of the Board of Apportionment and Taxation, which met twice, never once voting on the mayor’s budget.

“This budget will not end with this adoption today,” said Lauretti. “Things are going to change. We know this. We just do not know how much and when. People have to be patient.”

The focus now turns to the Board of Education. Before Friday’s aldermen vote, the school board began the process of slashing $3.1 million from its budget. Overall, the school board has eliminated 22 positions, including eight layoffs, but still has some $450,000 to cut.

Shelton City Hall. Photo: Contributed Photo / Connecticut Post
Photo: Contributed Photo

Shelton City Hall.

The school board initially had proposed a $75,083,945 budget — an increase of $2,318,945, or 3.19 percent. The school budget request maintained present services with money set aside for a new pre-K teacher and curriculum writing.

“Our revenues are grossly uncertain and back-to-school plans are unknown,” said Board of Aldermen President John Anglace Jr., “so the mayor recommended to start at last year’s levels and add to it as more is known. Finalizing and funding an uncertain plan would be a disservice to our entire community and adversely impact our major service providers, especially education.”

Gidwani submitted a statement to the Herald that he had planned to read after recording his no vote, he said.

“I disagree with the current city budget because we are flat funding education in a time when our Shelton students have been displaced from schools due to Covid-19,” said Gidwani. “When Shelton students return to our schools, they will need more support than ever before.”

Gidwani asked that city officials work together to find a way to keep the teachers and support staff.

“Students will need more counseling, more intervention and may even need smaller class sizes due to CDC guidelines,” said Gidwani. “We must work together to keep Shelton strong and support our future generation of Shelton residents.”

Lauretti said that city teachers are the 10th highest paid in the state and the district’s facilities are as fine as any in Connecticut, but “it is never enough for some people who make rude and derogatory comments.

“I am not moved by that … I am not threatened by anyone’s vote,” said Lauretti. “When I take action on behalf of this city, I take into consideration of every sector that lives and works here.”

Lauretti said, during the pandemic, everyone must sacrifice, including the school system.

“It can’t be for the kids all the time,” said Lauretti. “What about the seniors living on fixed incomes? Should we not consider them?

Lauretti said over his 29 years in office, he often hears during budget season how the school system is underfunded and in overall “bad” condition.

“But that only exists at budget time,” added the mayor. “After that, we have a great system.”

After Lauretti finished his comments during Friday’s meeting, he asked for any other comment from the board. When no one responded, he called for the vote.

All the aldermen that could be heard voted yes. Lauretti then asked twice for Gidwani, who has been a vocal critic of the mayor’s stance on many issues, with no response. After waiting a moment, Lauretti stated the vote was 7-0 in favor, with one abstention, that being Gidwani.

But Gidwani said he was disconnected during Lauretti’s comments. When he tried to call in, an automated message told him the meeting had finished.

Gidwani contacted both Anglace and the aldermen’s secretary Friday night to demand that his no vote and the statement he had planned to read be entered into the official record of the meeting.

The contentious budget season had featured separate petitions from both the Shelton Democratic Town Committee and the SHS Students Fight for Change student action group supporting Democrat Apportionment and Taxation members’ call for joint budget workshops between the A&T, the aldermen, the Board of Education and city department heads.

The DTC also urged the aldermen to hold a public hearing before the final budget adoption. The aldermen, citing the governor’s executive order, instead asked interested residents to send in letters and emails with comments on the budget proposal.

In a statement released Thursday, the DTC charged that the Board of Alderman violated the city charter and Gov. Ned Lamont’s executive orders regarding municipal budget processes.

“Executive Order 7I, which the BOA cited in adopting a resolution to waive requirements for public hearings, does not allow them to do that. EO 7I is very narrow and applies only to municipalities that require voters to vote to adopt a budget via public town meetings or referendums suspending those requirements.”

The DTC stated the executive order calls for municipalities to hold all required hearings “in a manner as closely consistent with the applicable statutes, special acts, town charters, municipal ordinances, resolutions or procedures as possible.”

“Why is it important to hold public hearings? Because you have a right to know how your tax dollars are being spent and you deserve to have a say in that process,” stated the DTC.

brian.gioiele@hearstmediact.com