STONINGTON — The proposed $73.6 million budget for the 2019-20 fiscal year is heading to a vote on April 30, after a first reading of the final document was completed in a tidy, six-minute annual town meeting at Stonington High School Monday night.
The Board of Selectmen and a group of about 20 people attended the meeting. No members of the audience chose to speak during the three opportunities for public comment.
The budget is subject to a townwide referendum on April 30 from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. First and Third District voters will cast ballots at the Stonington Borough Fire Station, 100 Main St., Stonington. Second District voters report to the Pawcatuck Fire Station, 33 Liberty St., Pawcatuck, and Fourth and Fifth District voters vote at the B.F. Hoxsie Mystic Fire Station, 34 Broadway Ave., Mystic.
A meeting to ratify the budget, or to discuss the next steps after a failed referendum, is scheduled for 8:30 p.m. that same night at Stonington Town Hall.
The proposed budget includes a 3 percent increase in the mill rate, from $22.68 to $23.36 per thousand dollars of taxable property. The total increase in the budget is about $3.4 million — a hike of 4.84 percent.
According to a nine-page budget summary prepared by First Selectman Rob Simmons, the most significant expenditure increase of the budget cycle is the continued debt service from the renovations of the Deans Mill and West Vine Street Schools.
“In what is the largest bonding project in town history, we expect to spend over $50 million town dollars,” he wrote.
According to budget figures provided by the town, debt service will increase by $786,431 this coming fiscal year. The largest year-to-year increase comes from capital-improvement funding requests, jumping $2.2 million up to $4.73 million.
About $2 million of the requested funds would be used by the Water Pollution Control Authority — $300,000 for a study and improvement plan for inflow and infiltrating water in the Mystic area, and $1.7 million to reactivate transfer lines from Mystic to Stonington Borough. These two projects also bear projected costs of $150,000 and $865,000 in fiscal year 2020-21, according to the budget.
Other significant municipal-side expenditures from capital improvements include $934,000 to the Public Works Department’s Highway Division, primarily for road pavement and maintenance. Capital improvements for Stonington Public Schools total $1.36 million, with the bulk of the costs applying to a bus yard relocation and security and parking upgrades at the middle school.
However, Simmons also warned that Stonington could face a budget hole if proposed legislation from Connecticut state Sen. Martin Looney, D-New Haven, to impose a standard, statewide rate for motor vehicle taxes passed.
“In 2017 the Town of Stonington assessed in-town motor vehicles at $148,888,500 for tax purposes,” Simmons wrote. “Should the state eliminate the Motor Vehicle Property Tax [MVPT], which state Sen. Looney has promised, we estimate that the town mill rare would increase 5.03 percent over prior year.”
Based on that figure, Stonington collected roughly $3.4 million in 2018-19 from motor vehicle taxes, with the figure projected to stay at a similar level for 2019-20.
According to Senate Bill No. 431 proposed by Looney, a statewide mill rate of $15 to $19 per thousand on motor vehicles would replace local statutes. Those funds would then be redistributed to municipalities, but earmarked for special education spending, education and alliance districts, and PILOT programs.
Assuming the town still received all of the revenue collected by the state, it would still reduce the amount collected by $600,000 to $1.2 million. The General Assembly typically sends a budget to the governor for approval in May or June.