NORTH STONINGTON — Town officials are moving to secure state certification for sustainability, and are awaiting the outcome of a second budget referendum.
The referendum will be held Tuesday at New Town Hall between 6 a.m. and 8 p.m. For those unable to vote on Tuesday, absentee ballots will be available Monday between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. The initial budget was rejected 498-266 on May 20.
The Board of Selectmen on June 11 canceled the town budget meeting and referendum that had been scheduled, respectively, for June 17 and June 25 because a petition signed by 210 voters asked for language in the referendum to be reworked. While the petition was ruled invalid by the town attorney, First Selectman Mike Urgo complied with the petition’s request to separate questions on the ballot regarding the operating budget, capital budget, and education, rather than have them wrapped into one question.
The proposed budget for 2019-20 is $20,276,572, which includes an operating budget of $5,008,099, debt service of $1,065,184, an education budget of $13,775,463, and a capital improvement budget of $427,826. The operating budget is 1.23 percent lower than last year's. The total budget is 1.73 percent higher. The proposed mill rate is 29.
“The board has worked really hard together to come up with what we feel is really solid budget,” Urgo said Friday.
Urgo also discussed the town's participation in in Sustainable CT, a voluntary certification program that recognizes municipalities that implement best sustainable practices. The selectmen approved the initiative last month.
The statewide program includes a detailed menu of best practices, tools and resources, and recognition.
“The pride of North Stonington has always been our agricultural heritage,” Urgo said. “We see ourselves as leaders in ecofriendly initiatives and this program will help us showcase the great work we have been doing in Southeastern Connecticut to create a more sustainable community.”
Sustainable CT’s platform includes watershed management, supporting arts and creative culture, reducing energy and increasing renewable energy, implementing walkable streets, improving recycling programs, and providing efficient and diverse housing options.
Urgo said he was putting together a small work group made up of residents interested in environmental issues, to pursue the initiative.
Urgo noted there would be funding and resources available for towns that earn Sustainable CT certification. “It’s an exciting thing we’re getting involved in,” Urgo said.
“We’ve done a lot of the work already so it’s just a matter of putting it all in one place,” he added, noting that “the ball is in motion” for some townwide solar projects.
“As of this summer we’ve begun the process of putting solar on our Center for Emergency Services building,” Urgo said, “and also the new middle school-high school. That will be followed by solar for the old high school-Board of Education building, as well as what will be the renovated elementary school.”
The town's building would all be solar, Urgo said. “In conjunction, we’re having a town meeting this summer where we will be discussing the possibility of building a solar field that townspeople would be able to buy into, so they don’t have to have the rooftop arrays.”
“They should be able purchase from here and it should provide quite a savings,” he said, “and it’s ecofriendly.”
Urgo said the town was also looking at developing some rain gardens — plantings that absorb runoff from impervious areas such as roofs, patios and driveways.
There are also plans, Urgo said, to make an affordable housing neighborhood on Wintechog Hill into an ecofriendly community.
The proposed budget is available on the Town of North Stonington website.