Lawmakers at North Stonington meeting say Malloy cuts will be ‘dead on arrival’

Lawmakers at North Stonington meeting say Malloy cuts will be ‘dead on arrival’

The Westerly Sun

NORTH STONINGTON — Facing residents’ questions about draconian cuts proposed in Governor Dannel Malloy’s 2017-18 budget, local legislators vowed to advocate for the town’s needs, calling the state budget “dead on arrival” at a town meeting at Wheeler Elementary School gym on Thursday.

Republican State Sen. Heather Somers and Democratic Rep. Diana Urban fielded questions about the budget, which as presented would cut town revenue by $1.7 million, including a 59.7 percent reduction in educational cost sharing. It also called for the town to fund a third of teacher pensions, at a cost of $642,000.

Making up for the cuts in state funding would require a 3.14 mill rate increase, to a tax rate of $30.14 per $1,000 of assessed property value — to an 11.6 percent increase.

Combined with the budget requests submitted by the Board of Selectmen and the Board of Education to the Board of Finance, the total impact on the town budget would be a 15.4 percent increase in taxes.

Somers, who is on the Appropriations Committee, said the state education formula had been politicized and there was “no love for anything Governor Malloy has proposed.”

“The cost shift from the towns to the cities is unfair and I will do everything I can to see the towns treated equitably,” she said.

Urban said the budget reflects judicial decisions that mandated equal rights to education for all children. “We’re going to take some hits and we’re going to work to make those as small as we can,” Urban said.

First Selectman Shawn Murphy said that cities like Hartford, Derby, Middletown, New London, and Norwich are receiving substantial increases in educational cost sharing while 139 of the state’s 169 towns are sustaining massive cuts. He also pointed out that North Stonington spends $16,000 per pupil whereas Hartford spends $19,000 (Somers later amended Hartford’s per pupil spending to $24,000).

“Why are we redirecting even more money to the cities?” Murphy asked. “They’re already spending more per pupil and there’s no guarantee the ECS must be used for education.”

During the public commentary period, Selectman Nick Mullane said the state had been “heading for a cliff for the past 30 years and now we’re over the cliff.”

“What will fix the problem will be rebellion and fortitude,” he said. “I will not accept $1 less than last year from the state.”

Resident Dexter Huron asked if the town was prepared to make reductions in costs if the governor’s budget comes to pass.

Murphy said the three boards would make reductions but that the “town hadn’t caused the problem and we shouldn’t have to solve it.”

One resident asked if the school modernization project could be put on hold until the town knows what the state budget will be.

Murphy said that the town had put the project on hold for 12 years and that costs increase every year. School board member Christine Wagner urged residents to understand that the school system is the “No. 1 asset in our town” and “to not fund the modernization project would be a bad move.”

Mike Urgo, chair of the school modernization committee, also said that the project represented the cheapest, best alternative for updating the schools’ infrastructure and that the town had secured very low interest rates, which would likely not be available going forward.


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