Shelton aldermen OK budget, reducing tax bills

SHELTON — Tax bills will be shrinking in the coming year.

The Board of Aldermen at a special meeting Thursday voted 7-1 to increase Mayor Mark Lauretti’s budget proposal to $129 million, a figure that includes a mill rate drop to 22.03, a 1.74 percent decrease from the present year.

Part of the $786,538 increase from Lauretti’s initial spending plan will come from an expected increase in Educational Cost Sharing grant funding — and selling $400,000 in city assets.

And the bulk of the money added to the original budget — $609,538 — will go to the Board of Education. The board had asked for $1.2 million to pay for contractual increases.

“This budget helps families deal with household budgets, provides stability for our business community, helping them build, compete, grow and create much needed jobs,” said Board of Alderman President John Anglace Jr. “(This budget) manages the city well and gives our citizens one of the most affordable tax rates in Connecticut.”

Alderman David Gidwani was the lone vote against the budget.

The Aldermen’s approved plan budgets $6.85 million in Educational Cost Sharing grant funding — Lauretti’s budget had estimated $6.64 million — along with the city asset sale, which was not part of Lauretti’s initial proposal.

Anglace said uncertainty about potential tax increases on the state level and the unknown impact that would have on the city and individual taxpayers forced Lauretti and the aldermen to remain frugal in its spending for the coming year.

“I am always appreciative of any support that we receive from the city towards the Board of Education,” Superintendent Ken Saranich said after hearing the news. “We need to meet to determine our sources of funding relative to the general budget allotment, and what we can supplement through grants.”

Lauretti’s proposed education budget stood at $72.9 million — a $135,000 increase over the 2020-21 school year budget but more than $2 million less than the $74.9 million the school board requested.

School officials said that their proposal maintained present staff and programs, but without at least $1.1 million more than this school year, the district would not be able to cover contractual obligations and could face potential staff cuts.

“Our Board will work with the central leadership team in determining how to cover our contractual obligations and where budgetary cuts may have to be made,” Board of Education Chair Kathy Yolish said. “We are resilient group and will continue to do the best that we can.”

The city is still required to pay the Bridgeport Board of Education for sending Shelton students to Bridgeport’s magnet schools. Bridgeport schools recently sued Shelton for $825,000 it says is owed.

Anglace said the city negotiated a $75,000 bill for the coming year to pay part of the amount. The school board had originally budgeted $226,000 in its spending plan, which had been reduced to $150,000 just last week, he said.

“Also, there are possible savings from use of the $4 million stimulus package which could also generate additional savings in the BOE proposed 2021-22 budget,” Anglace said.

“Once all these unknown factors come into focus, the (Aldermen) are prepared to revisit, if necessary, the BOE contractual needs for appropriate adjustment,” Anglace added.

Anglace also said he hoped the Board of Education would continue to use the city-run bus company at a capped cost of $3.15 million. The three-year deal ends after the coming fiscal year.

Gidwani — who is running for reelection in November and is a critic of Lauretti — got into a back and forth with fellow Alderman Cris Balamaci over what he said should have been savings from the city-run bus company since students were on remote learning the early part of the school year. The money, he said, should go to paying for school sports, which currently are pay-to-play.

After the meeting, he told Hearst Connecticut Media that Lauretti has provided a city budget that does not properly fund education and eliminate pay to participate.

"Since the city of Shelton took over the buses and did not provide transportation for our kids, I asked the mayor and (the aldermen) to pay for sports which was laughed at with the other board members," Gidwani said. “Shelton parents you should be appalled by the response against your tax dollars. Please remember this come November.”

Lauretti described Gidwani’s remarks during the evening as “election year rhetoric.”