After months of public hearings and reviews by two different elected boards, one Republican-controlled and the other Democratic, the budget that passed the Town Council differs only slightly from the one First Selectman Vicki Tesoro first submitted back in early March.
The $174.7 million budget that passed the council is about $139,000 less than Tesoro first proposed, a difference of less than eight-hundredths of one percent. The council approved the budget 11-8, mostly along party lines. Ted Chase, R-4th, split with the other council Republicans in voting "yes." No Democrats voted against the budget.
“This is a good budget,” said Council Chairman Mary Beth Thornton, D-2nd District. “It started out good and after two boards went over it with a fine-tooth comb, it really didn’t change much at all.”
The council cut just over $202,000 from the proposal that was approved by the Board of Finance last month. The finance board had increased Tesoro’s proposal by about $63,000. The council cuts came mainly from the Police Department and Public Works.
The police reduction was about $11,000 which the council removed from the General Fund. The money, which was earmarked for one year’s payments on a new vehicle, instead will come from a Police Department special account, a move that Police Chief Michael Lombardo endorsed.
The bulk of the council cut, $151,000, came from the Public Works Department. The council cut $81,000 in funding for a deputy director. Tesoro has advocated combining some services between the Public Works Department and the school system’s Building Department. The council allocated $27,000 to fund a transition plan. The council also saved $40,000 by deferring the purchase of a new Freightliner plow truck. The council noted that the department has two spare trucks already.
The final 2019-20 budget represents an increase of just over 2.9 percent from the current year. The Board of Finance still has to set a mill rate for next year, but town officials expect taxes in town to increase by about 2.1 percent over the current year.
Thornton said she could not remember a budget ever changing so little from start to finish like it did this year.
“I think the changes that the two boards made, we’re talking hundredths of a percent, show that we really started out with a lean budget to begin with,” Thornton said. “The first selectman made a proposal, the finance board added a little, the council cut a little. That’s three levels of scrutiny.”