Tax hike comes with approved $127.5M city budget

The city’s 2019-20 budget was approved Wednesday, May 29, and residents will see their first tax increase — yet smaller than first anticipated — in a decade.
The Board of Aldermen approved a $127,571,474 total budget, which will result in a mill rate of 22.42 mills, a 1.21 percent increase from the present 22.15 mill rate.
The city’s largest expenditure remains the Board of Education budget, which was funded at $72,765,000, a reduction of $1,273,550 from the school board’s request, yet slightly more than Mayor Mark Lauretti’s recommended $72,700,000, which would have been the same as the present fiscal year. The Aldermen placed the additional $65,000 in the education budget to hire a school psychologist.
“This budget helps our families deal with their household budgets,” said Board of Aldermen President John Anglace. “It provides stability for our business community, helping them to compete, grow and create much needed jobs.”
But Anglace added that this budget was not without its challenges.
“We are setting our budget without knowing what laws the state of Connecticut will enact to further burden Shelton taxpayers,” said Anglace, adding that the state budget is not approved until later in June. “Without the full state tax picture, municipalities must exercise frugal budgeting practices. We have no crystal ball and cannot adopt a spending plan only to find later that the state is shifting another expense onto the backs of our taxpayers.”
Lauretti, now a veteran of 28 city budgets, called this latest version his most challenging, citing uncertainty with the state budget implications as well as “because the Board of Education overspent its budget and depleted the (city’s) general fund.”
Lauretti is referring to the city’s independent auditor’s findings that the Board of Education overspent its allocated budget by more than $3 million over a two-year period. The Board of Education and school Superintendent Dr. Chris Clouet deny this charge. The city has since filed suit against the Board of Education and Clouet in an attempt to recoup some $2.6 million.
"This budget has been a struggle, and it all falls on me,” said Lauretti. “All the expenditures and reductions are on my side, and I have to make them work. I think there is a strong probability I can make this work.”
Lauretti said even with the depleted general fund, the city remains on strong financial footing.
"The biggest challenge is hoping that the revenue side will project to what they think it will be,” added Lauretti, with revenues estimated at $108,167,849. “I made some judgments based on history, where we have been before. I know we are in a good place financially, we just need a couple years to get past this Board of Education dilemma.”
On the school budget, Board of Education Chairman Mark Holden said he is concerned that the appropriation could hurt the district’s ability to maintain present academic standards.
"The Board of Education will do the best we can with the funds we have been allocated,” said Holden. “I am concerned, considering the increases in our costs, about whether or not what has been allocated will allow us to maintain our academic standards. Of course our goal is to improve academic standards.
“It is unfortunate, as far as I am concerned, with a healthy national economy and booming local economy, we are funding education as if we are in a depression,” added Holden.
The Board of Education's $74 million request still meant that some 14 staffers — mainly teachers — would have to be eliminated, as stated by both Holden and Clouet during the initial stages of this budget process. With the school board finally receiving word its request was not close to fulfilled, Holden said cuts are probably on the horizon.
“Fourteen was part of the plan if we got all that we asked for,” said Holden. “There will now probably be additional staffing cuts. We will also look for alternate ways to make cuts.”
School officials have asked the Board of Aldermen to consider bonding for textbooks and technology purchases — to a tune of some $800,000. Those purchases are presently in the school budget request, and while some textbooks and technology are necessary for next school year, some may be removed as part of a cost saving move, unless the Aldermen decide to bond for the items.
"We would need to know what (the Aldermen) plan to do before we re-balance our budget to match the actual allocation,” said Holden, adding that, if Aldermen agree to bond, that $800,000 could be used for staffing. “Some of the textbooks and technology we absolutely have to have next year. But we will take a look, and we will do the best we can with the resources we have.”
Clouet said he was disappointed that with such a strong national economy, Shelton schools are being treated as if the city is in an economic depression.
“All city departments got some sort of increase, and only we were reduced,” said Clouet. “You have to question why that is. I am concerned that students in Trumbull and Monroe have stronger political representation than the students in Shelton.”
Clouet said he was hopeful that the Board of Aldermen would to choose to bond the textbooks and computers, which, according to the superintendent, would “help a great deal.”