New Milford expected to close $2.2 million shortfall
NEW MILFORD — Reserves and savings on personnel will be used to make up for a $2.2 million shortfall in state revenue for the current fiscal year.
School and town officials have been working to close the gap for months after it was announced the state was awarding the town about $2.2 million less than budgeted, including $1.76 million in Education Cost Sharing grants.
“We should be on a pretty good path,” Mayor Pete Bass said at Monday’s Town Council meeting.
In January, the Town Council and the school board approved using $1.5 million of last year’s surplus to help offset the gap.
Bass said school officials have assured the town they will have their portion of the remaining $700,000 shortfall, which amounts to $450,000.
Superintendent of Schools Joshua Smith said on Wednesday that was based on savings achieved throughout the year by delaying purchases and maintenance and leaving positions unfilled or filling vacancies by less-expensive means.
“We wanted to make sure we could close the gap left by Hartford,” Smith said.
This includes not replacing a library clerk, replacing a school psychologist with a contracted service and using a substitute in place of a second-grade teacher who left. Smith said they are cutting seven elementary school positions next year and didn’t want to hire a full-time teacher for the remainder of the year who would not be able to return.
He said the schools were able to use less money for overtime than budgeted.
“The good news about the snowstorms happening during the week is we were able to save some overtime,” he said.
Smith said while the schools committed to finding $450,000 in savings for the town, they are also trying to cover $200,000 less in state funding for special education reimbursement and need to have $100,000 in reserves in case of adjustment at the end of the year.
“It’s really a $750,000 hole the schools are trying to close,” he said.
The town also turned to personnel to close the gap.
In February, Mayor Pete Bass announced six layoffs, including the assistant police chief, assistant director of parks and recreation, the Public Works project manager, the assistant tax assessor and a worker in the tax collector’s office. The Parks and Recreation Committee was able to get the assistant director back by finding other revenue sources and savings.
At Monday’s meeting, councilman Paul Szymanski questioned the schools’ contribution.
“Though they represent about 60 percent of our budget, they’re putting in about $600,000,” he said, adding this includes the $193,000 surplus from last year that was included in the $1.5 million approved from the reserves.
Greg Osipow, the town’s finance director, defended the schools’ portion.
“We’re partners in this, Paul,” he said.
Smith said the money comes from the same pot.
“It’s all in the same budget and the ins and outs don’t matter or what line they come from,” he said.
Bass and Smith said they are continuing the partnership to have more savings next year, such as bidding capital projects together, including roof work and replacing fuel tanks.
“We look forward to collaborating with Town Council on how to educate our children,” Smith said.
He said New Milford already has some good news for next year. The state budget signed by the governor this week restores $1.3 million in funding for Education Cost Sharing grants, though this is still less than the town usually receives.
“Hartford saw the punitive nature of that cut and restored $1.3 million,” Smith said.
On Monday, Osipow said he is hesitant to count that money as revenue because a new governor will take office this year and the town could be in the same position for the next fiscal year.
“I’m not saying we have money in our pocket,” he said. “Caution is the keyword.”