More education funds, new sewer plant: Petitioners ask for more in Trumbull budget

Board of Finance Chair Lainie McHugh opens Saturday's budget hearing with the Pledge of Allegiance.

Board of Finance Chair Lainie McHugh opens Saturday’s budget hearing with the Pledge of Allegiance.

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TRUMBULL — The first public hearing on the town’s $183.8 million budget proposal adjourned after less than 15 minutes when only two members of the public signed up to speak.

But those two had requests they’ve asked before: more school funding and a Trumbull-based sewer plant.

Frank Squiccimarro, the president-elect of the town’s PTA Council, read a statement on behalf of the council urging the board to increase the $112.3 million that First Selectman Vicki Tesoro allotted. The Board of Education had requested about $112.75 million to schools. Tesoro trimmed $450,000 from the original request based on lower than anticipated health care cost projections.

“The Board of Ed’s budget request came at a time when the board was asked to respond to two mandates — one stemming from the results of the operational review, and other from its responsibility to build an exceptional educational system,” Squiccimarro said. “The request is appropriate and necessary to achieve both objectives.”

According to Squiccimarro, the PTA Council “recognizes that these are challenging times, and that the COVID pandemic has touched every individual constituent in various ways.”

But a large sector of those constituents are students, whose personal and educational lives changed overnight, he said.

“The toll this pandemic has taken on their social and emotional well-being is already evident, and will become more visible next year,” he said. “The Trumbull public school parents, students and teachers have made great sacrifices over the previous year. They have gone above and beyond.”

Following his formal comments, Squiccimarro offered a personal hope that this could finally be the year that the schools went beyond maintaining the status quo or simply minimizing losses.

“This is my third year coming to the Board of Finance public hearing, and every year I see a little bit of the pie being cut,” he said. “Hopefully, this year we can actually add something to our school system to hopefully restore it.”

Other than Squiccimarro, the only other speaker was Planning and Zoning member Tony D’Aquila, who urged the town to fund a wastewater treatment facility in the lower White Plains Road area. Currently the town’s sewers feed into Bridgeport’s treatment facilities, but that system is in need of costly upgrades and frequently discharges untreated or partially treated sewage into Long Island Sound.

“The potential grants expected from federal stimulus packages present an unprecedented opportunity for Trumbull and Monroe to design, construct and implement a new wastewater treatment plant to be built in Trumbull,” he said. “We need to pull the plug on any continuing relationship with the City of Bridgeport as related to wastewater treatment.”

D’Aquila pointed out that he has been making the same request for 12 years and nothing has changed.

“This situation represents a total failure of Trumbull government to fulfill a statutory requirement,” he said.

Board Chairman Lainie McHugh acknowledged the ongoing situation, but added that funds for building a new sewage treatment plant were not in the 2021-22 budget.

Saturday’s hearing was the first of two on the town budget. Another is scheduled for March 23 via Zoom.

Tesoro’s budget proposal for next year represents a 3 percent increase from the current year’s budget. If adopted as-is, it would require a tax increase of just over 3 percent, or about $317 on a house valued at $400,000.

In her 10-page budget letter, Tesoro pointed out that her 2021-22 proposal gave the school system its largest budget increase in eight years, and that last year the mill rate did not change.

“We decided last year we would help taxpayers by not raising taxes,” she said. “So there are two ways of looking at this year’s 3 percent proposed increase. You could say that it is 3 percent over two years, or 1.5 percent each year for two years.”

The Board of Finance can increase or reduce any line item in Tesoro’s budget. The panel is expected to make its adjustments and vote on next year’s budget proposal at its April 1 meeting, although it could continue to vote to April 3.

Once the board approves the budget, it then goes on to the town council which has until May 15 to make its own adjustments and approve it. Unlike the finance board, though, the town council may only increase budget items by a two-thirds vote.