Budget proposal of $103.4 million on the table

NEW MILFORD — Mayor Pete Bass is proposing a $103.4 million budget for the next fiscal year, nearly $1.4 million, or 1.35 percent, more than the current budget.

The town portion of the budget is about $8,500 less than the current budget and comes in at about $39 million. The overall increase comes from the school budget, even with the nearly $249,000 cut Bass made to the school budget.

The school board adopted a $64.6 million budget, which is 2.5 percent more than the current budget but $423,000 less than the superintendent’s proposal. Bass’s proposal instead puts the school budget at about $64.4 million, which is about $1.38 million, or 2.2 percent, more than this year’s budget.

“In forming this year’s budget, I carefully examined the revenues and expenditures to balance the needs of our community with your ability to pay,” Bass said.

Under Bass’s proposed budget, the tax rate would increase by about 2 percent, going from 28.17 to 28.76 per $100,000 of assessed value.

Bass said the town is projecting about $635,000 less in revenue, including about $200,000 less in taxes despite a slight uptick in the grand list. Sherman is expected to contribute $113,000 less for tuition reimbursements because enrollment is expected to be down. Less funding is from the state is part of the budget as well..

“They’re grappling with a $2 billion deficit so we took a proactive approach and reduced all state revenue by 10 percent across the board,” Finance Director Greg Osipow said. “We’ll see if that’s enough.”

This budget includes taking $150,000 less from the Landfill Settlement Fund.

“This fund has a finite amount of money available and we need to proactively wean ourselves off this fund,” Bass said.

Even with less revenue, the budget includes increases and new items, largely due to the savings generated by the switch to the state health insurance plan. Bass built upon the efficiencies and savings found in each department this past year as New Milford worked to close the state funding gap.

New items in the budget include a new police officer and adding a civil engineer, which is expected to save money by bringing more pieces of the road work in house.

It includes $50,000 more for the fire department’s capital fund. The town cut its contribution to this fund by $25,000 last year so this money would cover that cut and bring it back to the normal level. The fund is used to help the departments replace the apparatus on a scheduled basis.

The budget includes $50,000 more for tree removal, $100,000 more for stormwater and drainage projects to address icing areas, $150,000 more for chip sealing, $100,000 for the economic development corporation to help attract businesses and $76,000 more for utilities, largely due to the higher cost of fuel and because of the natural gas usage at the John Pettibone Community Center.

There is also $50,000 budgeted for the high school turf replacement fund. The school board set money aside each year to save up to cover the replacement when its needed down the road

“It is important that we reserve money for the eventual replacement of the turf fields surface and as such I am proposing to proactively address this future expense now,” Bass said.

There are also several one-time expenses, most of which are vehicle replacements. Other items include replacing the computers in the police cars, repaving the police department parking lot, repointing the bricks at the railroad station and getting a bucket truck for tree work.

The budget also includes more money for salt and sand for winter storms and buying a salt brine machine that will let the town create its own mixture in house and save about 80 percent, ultimately allowing for less treated salt.

The Feb. 19 meeting was the first of several joint budget workshops scheduled between the Town Council and finance board.

“Over the coming weeks, I am looking forward to working cooperatively with the Town Council, Board of Finance and you, the taxpayer, to provide a budget that respects your tax dollars while still maintaining and improving the town that we all love,” Bass said.

kkoerting@newstimes.com; 203-731-3345