New Milford Town Council approves $100.9 million budget

Photo of Katrina Koerting

NEW MILFORD — Town Council has approved a $100.9 million budget that holds school funding steady and cuts the town side of the budget by about $120,000.

But residents can nevertheless expect a 3.87 percent tax increase, owing to the loss of about $4.2 million in revenue at both state and local levels.

“These aren’t decisions any of us want to make,” said Councilman Paul Szymanski. “It’s being forced by the state of Connecticut.”

The budget now goes before the Board of Finance.

Councilmen Peter Mullen and Walter Bayer opposed the budget proposal, saying the schools should get more money. The school board had proposed a $64.3 million budget, which was 2.34 percent more than the current year.

The biggest change the council made was to reduce the amount of money transferred from the unassigned fund, from $1.5 million as originally proposed to just $493,000. Council members said it is not a good practice to use the fund to offset falling revenue.

But some school board members argued that in effect Town Council took money needed for the schools and put it in the unassigned fund. Tammy McInerney, vice chairwoman of the board, said the town is hurting the schools without giving residents tax relief.

It’s disappointing to say the least,” she said on Monday. “It’s almost cruel. I understand that times are tough for the town because of the state cuts, but decimating the school budget is not the right way to move forward.”

She said there is no way to cut $1.4 million in funding from the schools’ request without it affecting programs, staff and students. About nine positions were already cut in the school’s proposal.

Some of the cuts in the town budget include removing about $50,000 for the fire department capital spending, leasing a dump truck instead of purchasing it, reducing tree work and associated costs by about $9,000, reducing the town’s contribution to the Candlewood Lake Authority by $7,800, removing a youth agency programmer for $14,500 and cutting contributions to nonprofits by $10,400.

Councilman Michael Nahom said nonprofits should get private donations from residents instead of tax dollars unless there is an existing partnership with the town, like those with Loaves and Fishes and the Children’s Center.

The cuts ordered by council are in addition to the ones Mayor Pete Bass proposed, including removing six town positions. One of those positions, that of parks and recreation deputy director, has since been restored.

Another big change was to add about $150,000 to the budget for an economic development director so the town could get a qualified person to hold the job. Szymanski said the town has underfunded the position in the past, offering $70,000 to $80,000.

“We can’t save our way out of this problem,” said councilwoman Lisa Hida. “We have to work both sides of the equation and I believe this is the place for that investment.”