STONINGTON — The Board of Finance will hold a public hearing on the town’s proposed 2019-20 budget at Stonington High School tonight at 7:15 p.m.
At $73.8 million, the proposed 2019-20 budget represents a $3.54 million, or 5 percent, increase over the 2018-19 budget, which totaled $70.25 million.
The proposed mill rate for 2019-20 is $23.53 per $1,000 of assessed property value and represents a $.85 increase, or 3.75 percent, over the 2018-19 mill rate of $22.68 per $1,000 of assessed property value.
The proposed budget will keep $13.95 million in the town’s undesignated fund balance, which includes $12.3 million to cover two months of the town’s operating expenses. The town has a policy of keeping two months of operating expenses in reserve to help retain its AA+ bond rating and as a buffer against unanticipated expenses.
According to First Selectman Rob Simmons’ 2019-20 budget message, one of the factors driving the increases is the continued debt service on the $67 million renovations and additions to the Deans Mill and West Vine Street elementary schools, which were approved by voters in 2015. The state will reimburse the town at a 32 percent discount rate rather that the anticipated 25 percent rate, according to Simmons.
“But the cost of these two projects will certainly make debt service a significant portion of the budget in coming years even though our excellent AA1 bond rating provides a favorable rate of interest,” Simmons wrote.
The town’s consolidation of its two middle schools produced an estimated $1 million in savings, allowing the Board of Education to request a zero percent increase over its 2018-19 $38 million budget. However, at its March 29 meeting, the Board of Finance voted to cut the Board of Education’s 2019-20 budget by $330,000, representing a .88 percent decrease from the previous year’s budget.
Simmons’ request for funding capital projects in the coming fiscal year was initially $10.5 million, or $8 million over the adopted 2018-19 Capital Improvement plan, which totaled $2.5 million. However, the Board of Finance cut the First Selectman’s request to $5.3 million, which represents a $2.8 million increase, or 112 percent, over last year’s capital budget.
In his budget message, Simmons said the town will see substantial capital costs in funding new vehicles and equipment for the Highway Department in 2019-20. The town is transitioning from a lease-to-purchase system for vehicles acquisition, which spread out the costs over a longer term and added debt costs, to a program that purchases vehicles with cash and avoids paying debt service.
“Anticipated costs for the highway fleet scheduled replacements over the next five years is anticipated to be about $2.6 million,” Simmons stated.
The Water Pollution Control Authority also requested $2 million for two initiatives. At $300,000, the first is for an inflow and infiltration study on the Mystic sewage plant, which has been operating close to capacity, to determine if unmetered water is entering the plant through illegal residential sump pump flows and/or infiltration into old sewer mains during high tides and heavy rainfall. The authority will also request $150,000 for this initiative in 2020-21. At $1.7 million, the second initiative calls for the reactivation of transmission lines from the Mystic plant to the Borough plant, which is currently operating below 50 percent capacity. The authority will also request $865,000 for the second initiative in 2020-21.
The proposed 2019-20 budget is available at www.stonington-ct.gov.