NORTH STONINGTON — The Board of Finance has passed a $20,752,781 budget for the 2020-21 fiscal year.
The budget was approved Wednesday evening following a 4.5-hour deliberation that saw members reinstate a $50,000 per diem firefighter position, as well as adding $15,000 for necessary invasive weed removal at three of the town’s lakes. Using money from the undesignated fund to balance expenditures, the group was also able to reduce the impact to taxpayers.
Under the approved budget, the town has set the mill rate at 29.5 mills, representing an 0.5 mill increase over the current fiscal year.
“I think this budget represented a true compromise, with everyone contributing to the deliberations,” said First Selectman Mike Urgo. “I’m not sure you could say anyone was happy with it, but I think those involved will tell you they were satisfied with the process.”
Following a public hearing before the Board of Finance and Board of Selectman on Monday, town officials entered Wednesday with a proposal that called for a $20,687,781 combined overall spending plan for general government, education, debt services and capital expenditures. North Stonington Public Schools will receive a 2.5% increase over current spending with a $14.12 million, $1.2 million will be used for debt and $320,175 will be used for capital expenditures.
Daniel Spring, chairman of the Board of Finance, said that in a time where many residents are facing uncertainties as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the board was cognizant of the need to find a balance between the town’s need and the taxpayers ability to shoulder the cost. Due to the circumstances, he said members worked to find a way to further reduce the mill rate in order to limit the impact of this year’s budget.
“We were willing to authorize money from the unassigned fund to offset costs due to the circumstances of this pandemic,” Spring said.
Members of the board spent a considerable time discussing the addition of the per diem firefighter position. Following a 3-3 split vote that failed to pass a motion that would have added two per diem positions in the coming budget, a request that would have led to a $100,000 expenditure, members voted unanimously to pass a compromise that allowed for one of the positions to be approved.
Board members also unanimously added a $15,000 expenditure for invasive weed removal at Billings Lake, Wyassup Lake and Blue Lake, or Anderson Pond. The motion passed unanimously.
Members also made several adjustments to the undesignated fund, removing a total of $375,768 to both offset a $225,000 reduction in revenue and to use $150,768 in order to bring the mill rate back down to 29.5 mills.
The motion to remove the $225,000 passed by a 5-1 margin, with member Anne Akin opposed, and the motion to use the $150,768 to offset the mill rate was passed by a 4-2 margin, with Spring and Akin voting against.
The largest increase in this year in this year’s budget will be debt services, with the town taking on an additional 13.05% in spending as a result of the school modernization project. Capital expenditures will decline 25.15%, meanwhile, representing a reduction of $107,650 when compared to the current year.
Urgo said with a budget now in place, town officials will be keeping a close eye on how the economy continues to respond in hopes of securing revenue and assuring the community is in a position to properly manage its budget, both short and long term.
“We are certainly in unprecedented times and to that end the Board of Finance put forth a budget that will result in a .50 mil rate increase which is less than what had been proposed at the hearing,” he said.