Tesoro: Pensions, state cuts drive budget request

The town’s budget would grow by just under $5 million, to $174.8 million, under First Selectman Vicki Tesoro’s proposed budget for the 2019-20 fiscal year. The increase, just over 2.9%, would require a tax hike of about 2.15%. For a home assessed at $300,000 taxes would increase about $219.
The the majority of the increase, $2.9 million, is allocated to the town side of the budget. The school system will receive about $2 million more than this year, less than half the increase sought by the school board.
Most of the town side spending increase is due to increased debt service and insurance costs, which each increased about 9%, and pension contributions, which grew at a 4.3% clip.
On the school side, proposed state cutbacks to the Educational Cost Sharing grant and reallocation of teacher pension contributions could see Trumbull’s school costs increase nearly $1.2 million next year. Should those cutbacks not happen, Tesoro said the town would work to put money into the school budget and reduce the proposed tax hike.
“As a long-time education advocate, I would have liked to give the Board of Education everything it requested,” Tesoro said. “However...that was not possible.”
The good news for taxpayers is that the Grand List, the net total of all taxable property in town, grew slightly last year after a decline in 2017-18. In addition, investment income to the town was higher than expected, and Tesoro said Treasurer Anthony Musto expects to be able to continue that trend.
The proposed tax hike is almost exactly in line with recent town budgets. Since 2013 the town tax increases have been 1.87%, 2.8%, 2.19%, 1.99%, 1.87% and next year’s 2.15% for an average of 2.14%. Those numbers do not include the 2016-17 revaluation.
The school budget increase of 2% is on the low side over that same time period. Education funding increases since 2013 have been 2.89%, 2.18%, 2.34%, 1.77%, 1.42%, 3.1% and next year’s 2% for an average of about 2.24%.
Despite a budget she described as lean, Tesoro said the town would invest in roads and infrastructure, including long-term projects on Moose Hill Road, Strobel Road and Chestnut Hill Road. In addition, committees are currently examining the future of the 50-year-old Hillcrest pool and the town’s library and senior center. Both committees are expected to submit their recommendations by summer.
“This budget represents my best effort to balance the need for continued investment with the need for stable taxes so we do not make our town unaffordable for our citizens and our businesses,” Tesoro wrote in her budget letter to the Board of Finance. “I promised to keep taxes stable and I did that in this budget.”
The budget proposal now heads to the finance board, which will hold public hearings March 14 at 7 p.m. and April 6 at 10 a.m. in Town Hall.