Aldermen to discuss budget at public hearing

During a Board of Aldermen meeting on May 4, Paul Hiller, the city’s finance director, suggested the city finalize its budget as early as possible this month because he doesn’t expect the state to finalize its own budget until after July 4.

The city charter grants the Board of Aldermen until May 31 to adopt a budget and tax rate, but the board approved a motion at its last meeting that set May 25 as the date to finalize it.

Before then, the board has meetings scheduled to discuss the budget further on May 15, which is a public hearing, and May 18.

First Ward Alderman Anthony Simonetti said the Board of Aldermen wants to make sure it hears everyone’s input before finalizing a budget.

“Maybe the public has an idea that we haven’t thought of or a better alternative,” said Simonetti. “We’re not the end-all and be-all.”

‘It’s a lot of speculation’

With the governor’s budget proposal calling for multimillion-dollar cuts to Education Cost Sharing grants for cities like Shelton, and for forcing the same municipalities to fund one-third of teachers’ pensions, it’s been a tough budget season, to say the least.

But fortunately, Hiller said, he doesn’t think the governor’s budget will be passed as presented.

Hiller said most of the talk in regard to the state’s final budget is speculation, and he doesn’t see the budget being passed with municipalities having to pay a portion of teachers’ pensions.

Because cities must pass their budgets before the state finalizes its own budget, this could lead to municipalities having to readjust.

Board of Aldermen President John Anglace said it’s too early in the budget process to prepare for readjusting, but he acknowledges that anything is possible.

“We have to know how much we’ll be receiving in ECS grants, if anything, and if we will be forced to take on the one-third of teachers’ pensions,” said Anglace.

Board of Ed Chairman Mark Holden said if the board doesn’t receive the $1.98 million it requested, there’s a potential for layoffs.

Anglace disagreed with that negative outlook.

“Worst-case scenario, Dr. [Chris] Clouet is going to use the money they saved for teacher retirements and not replace those jobs,” said Anglace. “So he’ll do it through attrition versus layoffs. He won’t post those jobs. He’ll do what he has to do just like we will. It’s going to be creative on his part, but he’s willing to take it on.

Gap created by state cuts

With millions of state education dollars potentially being taken from municipalities across the state, their financial staffs are being forced to look into every option possible to fill gaps created by proposed budget cuts.

Anglace said one option the city will never explore is dipping into its surplus of more than $10 million.

“We have never and will not go forward building operating budgets with surplus money, because you can’t sustain it,” said Anglace. “Next year, where would we get that money when it’s twice as much? You build a budget based on the revenue you have coming in and your expected expenses and you manage it as best as you can.”

Before the city can complete its budget, the Board of Aldermen will modify the latest recommendation provided by the city’s Board of Apportionment and Taxation.

“The Board of A&T’s budget recommendation of $123,331,031 has to be changed,” said Anglace. “Where and by how much still is what we’re trying to determine.”

Anglace said he found some issues in the recommendation for education spending. The Board of A&T’s decision to take $350,000 from police private duty isn’t possible, according to Anglace.

“We budget revenue. We budget $900,000 in revenue for police private duty. Police private duty work is just as it says, ‘private,’ paid for by private sources,” said Anglace. “The Board of A&T misunderstood and thought they could make a cut and give the funds to the Board of Education.”

Anglace said more discussion needs to take place to better track exactly what the education budget is spent on.

“We don’t know how much money you really need. People have a right to know how much the city is spending on special education,” said Anglace. “If you go through their budget, I pulled out $6.8 million in special ed spending just for teachers, tutors, transportation, and special transportation. If you look beyond that, every budget has a special education line item in it. So there’s a lot more money than just that $6.8 million being spent on that department. We have to understand what they’re up against in order to help.”