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Tough Challenges Ahead as Finance Board Prepares for Budget Process

When members of the Board of Finance begin scrutinizing the budget, they face challenges that could make even the request for a 2-percent increase difficult to approve.

There are many tough challenges ahead for members of the Board of Finance when they begin their budget workshops on Thursday evening – and these challenges could make it difficult to recommend the requested 2-percent increase for general government and 3.82-percent increase for the Board of Education.

Finance members said Tuesday that without seeing this year’s grand list and coming off a revaluation that showed an 8-percent decline in residential property values and 9-percent decline in commercial values, everything will be scrutinized and cuts are a real possibility this year.

“This is becoming a bit of a nightmare for us on the Board of Education,” said Sandra Feld, who joined the Board of Finance after being elected in November. “There are four major departments coming up and we don’t have a potential mill rate. We don’t have what we need to determine what it would mean for the average taxpayer. This is information I believe we need heading in.”

Southington Town Assessor Brian Lastra said this week that while the town is “making good progress” in completing their entries into the newly established database, there is still work to be done.

Lastra said late last week that right now, he anticipates that the town’s 2011 grand list figures will be released to town officials and the public between Feb. 27 and Feb. 29.

“We will meet the deadline, but we are going to push right up against the 30-day extension (granted by the state),” Lastra said.

Board of Finance member Anthony Casale, who also joined the board for his first-term after being elected in November, said he is disappointed that they will need to start the process without the proper information and knowing what to look for.

The town announced it had filed an extension on Feb. 1, saying the implementation of new software designed to make the process easier, quicker and more comprehensive was taking longer than expected to complete. Lastra and Town Manager Garry Brumback said the efforts spearheaded by Vision Government Services, the group hired to conduct this year’s revaluation, include entering 20-years of property data for over 2,000 commercial properties.

Even when the grand list is released, Casale said it could include some minor changes as property owners have until mid-March to appeal their valuation.

But it’s not just the grand list leaving issues, either. While Casale said the general government budget released on Friday “looks fairly lean at first glance,” finance members were just receiving their hard copies and have not had a chance to review in complete detail yet. In addition, Casale said the board would need to be weary of upcoming bond expectations which will include costs for renovation of the town’s two middle schools, an upcoming federal requirement to reduce phosphorus levels at the Water Pollution Control Facility and other capital projects.

Feld said reductions in property values could lead to challenges as well.

“Our taxpayers in town are stretched,” Feld said. “There are 8- and 9-percent decreases in property values, which means that owners will need to take on a higher mill rate to simply maintain the current level of services.”

If the grand list isn’t available by the time the second workshop happens on Feb. 29, she also worries that all eight major town departments will be reviewed without knowing exactly what lies ahead.

“We are going to have to be prepared. That means asking a lot of questions and it could also mean having to add a third workshop before the public hearing (scheduled for March 5 at DePaolo Middle School),” she said.

Messages left with Board of Finance Chairman John Leary and member Joseph Labieniec were not returned on Tuesday.

The Board of Finance will begin their budget review on Thursday at 6:30 p.m. in the Finance Department at Southington Town Hall.

Click on the link provided to see the full PDF copy of the town manager's proposed budget.

Arthur Cyr February 22, 2012 at 01:35 PM
IF property assessment values are going down 8%, people should expect the mill rate to increase 8% to maintain the exact same amount of taxes collected. The BOE doesn't wait until the Grand List comes out before submitting their budgets, so what's the big deal? The Board of Finance doesn't start their Budget Workshops until March 13th, 20th and 23rd. That's where they start making changes to the TOWN budget requests. Not February 22 or Feb 27th and they don't need that info before they talk to department managers. Maybe this year they will take more than an hour to review the BOE $82.6 million dollar budget with a $3 million dollar increase before they decide what to do with that budget? This hand wringing and "lack of important information" is merely political malarkey.
John Moise February 22, 2012 at 02:37 PM
Art, It is not political malarkey. The grand list should have been completed last month before the BOF met with the BOE. The BOE asks for 3.88 and the grand list is a minimal increase or maybe in the negative then that meeting discussion changes because you have all the pieces of the puzzle. Then you can have an honest, open discussion instead of having a one sided discussion of: BOE needs 3.88% including the 1.16 million from last year's federal grant which the BOE has had a year to absorb. Instead the BOE included this into the 3.88% saying without this the BOE loses 22 teachers boxing the BOF in. But wait ...the town should spend 1 million on turf. Let me ask the question and the town can't have both. Would the BOE rather have $1 Million to operate or $1 million for artificial turf. I bet the BOE would the the money to operate. And don't say one does not have to due with the other they are intertwined if the BOF wants to keep the tax base low. Looking forward to your response and i choose to use one thread to discuss the issues.
Pensive February 22, 2012 at 03:00 PM
Should be "fun" this year. If the reval drops 8 pct and the mill rate goes up 8 pct; individual tax liability won't change. But if my reval drops 12 pct any yours drops 4 pct; guess who pays more. Also the governor crosses his fingers behind his back when speechifying to town officials about state education grants.
Arthur Cyr February 22, 2012 at 03:06 PM
Mr. Moise - Hogwash! As I stated above, IF the Grand List goes down 8%-9% and the mill rate goes up 7%-10% to keep my tax AMOUNT the same, it has little or no bearing on people looking at either the Town or BOE budget. The BOE in their budget work N-E-V-E-R looks at how much the Grand List goes up or down -- they simply look at how much they want to expand every program and staff. These meetings with the BOE is always one sided - they tell you what they want and few questions are asked. Then meetings are conducted with Town departments and some questions are asked about past and future expenditures. Only after all that does the Board of Finance sit down in mid March and start looking at cutting here or there in both the BOE and/or Town budget requests. And NO, I will not discuss artificial turf at any field in town, because its a non factor in the grand list being ready last week or any budget discussions this year.
John Moise February 22, 2012 at 03:30 PM
Art, you are very mis informed. Look at the past years and you will see a pattern of how the grand list goes so does what the Town and BOE budgets. You have been to these meeting and you should know this. You do not have to discuss turf but weather you like it or not it is part of the financial equation the BOF must calculate into the picture. The fact is it will cost this town much more than the committee is stating. Do a little homework and go to the towns who have turf and their Town and BOE budgetS\s on their website. You will be surprised at what you see. These are actual costs after the turf is put in. There are many hidden costs that this committee chose not to factor in. The savings they believe they will have turns into a quick deficit kind of like the VOAG. Please don't say the committee did this because they chose what was favorable to them. Maybe if they had a public hearing before voting for the turf this information would be out their. But as usual that would be a problem thus why have a public hearing... As always read the fine print and you will be amazed at what these companies get away with until it is to late. By the way How is North Center coming along, kind of like the My Bar parking lot. Maybe it will be ready by July therefore saving the town a little money unless it was spent to fix the problems they did not realize existed at North Center. Yes, this is all on one thread reply if you choose too.
Arthur Cyr February 22, 2012 at 03:58 PM
Mr. Moise - You use to be more organized and detailed in discussions. Sadly, thats not the case above. Rather than throwing out rumor and misstatements about North Center or Turf, why don't you post some of your details? Regarding the SUBJECT of the Town budget, the Town budgets go up based on needs and revenues. Needing the Grand List total last week is merely a political smokescreen on your part. Didn't you learn anything last November?
Tony Casale February 22, 2012 at 05:13 PM
Mr. Cyr, I take exception to your comments above. You and I have had conversations about politics and I have told you more than once I have no political agenda whatsoever. I take my duties as a member of the BOF very seriously and do not use interviews for" political malarkey," I state the facts as I see them. It could be said that you are spreading rumor by the statements above. I have been tasked with very important issues that will impact taxpayers and citizen of Southington for many years to come , if I decide I want all the information I can get to do so in a timely fashion then I am entitled to that. When you get elected you can do things they way you want to. Furthermore I consider your statements a personal attack on my integrity and they belittle my comittment to the taxpayers and citizens of Southington. Now if you don't mind I'll spend whats left of my lunch break reviewing other items you probably find "unimportant." Good day to you sir. Anthony F Casale Jr Member Southington Board of Finance and Taxpayer
Arthur Cyr February 22, 2012 at 05:38 PM
It is unfortunate that Tony Casale jumped to "consider your statements a personal attack on my integrity and they belittle my comittment to the taxpayers and citizens of Southington. " I NEVER QUESTIONED YOUR INTEGRITY. OR YOUR "COMMITMENT". What rumors Tony?? Tell me one single decision made by any member of the Board of Finance this week. Be careful, as there has been no public hearing or meeting to date other than the one with the BOE. And since you weren't there, two years ago the Board of Finance spent days going over the Town budget and less than 15 minutes before deciding the amount of the BOE budget. That is what I was referring to in the posting above your personal attack on me. And you have little idea what I consider important or unimportant.
John Leary February 22, 2012 at 05:53 PM
I feel the spending requests from Board of Education and Town Government, the non-tax revenue projections and the grand list and associated mill rate are all factors that need to be considered before final decisions are made. You cannot approve a budget without seeing all the pieces and assessing the net impact. However you can progress through the pieces in stages. We began reviewing BOE spending requests and the town departments present their spending to BOF on Thursday and next week. Then in March the BOF meets in a workshop setting to review the details and the total impact on the taxpayers. During the entire process questions will be asked and answered. I am confident that we will have all the pieces in enough time to make an informed decision. The grand list and mill rate are a bit more complicated. In short one mill rate applies to the entire grand list. So the same taxes will be levied in total but the allocation to the assets will change. We will discuss the grand list in more detail later in the process. John Leary, Chairman – Southington Board of Finance
John Moise February 22, 2012 at 07:05 PM
Art and John let us not lose sight of the fact that The Grand List is late and we gave the department $100,000 to upgrade so this would not happen. John you are correct it is a piece of the puzzle which the BOF and the town for that matter should have had over a month ago. Lets stop with the excuses and hold the departments accountable. When you return my email or call we can discuss further. In December 2010 when the item for an upgrade came to BOF we all said yes despite our reservations. Now we find out, once again we were not told the whole truth which undoubtedly has increased the overtime in this department. Again, the fact is the Grand List is late and that is a shame that this has happened and no one seems care. Art, it is not negative when you are factual. We can go down that road any time but the fact is that you did not do your homework and check other towns budgets on the turf after it was installed. Let me know your findings because I have mine.
Arthur Cyr February 22, 2012 at 08:13 PM
Really? "check other towns budgets on the turf after it was installed. Let me know your findings because I have mine." Please Mr. Moise.... since you haven't bothered to attend any of the Town meetings or discussed this with anybody on the committee as far as we've heard...... PLEASE post all your information HERE AND NOW for all to see? What towns? What years? Post as many multiple post as you need to inform us of all your research. And consider sending it to all those people on the Turf committee.
Tony Casale February 22, 2012 at 10:21 PM
This hand wringing and "lack of important information" is merely political malarkey. The above copied and pasted from your comments, referring to the story and comments made by Mrs Feld and myself, or am I not reading this correctly. This goes to you suggesting that my comments are politically based and also suggests that you feel the items in question are unimportant, again am I reading this wrong? I think not. As far as what happened two years ago, I cannot change that, I can assure you that regardless of how long the meeting takes to approve the BOE budget, I have already spent countless hours reviewing it. I am sure this back and forth will come to no good end so I will leave you to have the last word if you wish. I feel no further need to defend my statements.
Arthur Cyr February 23, 2012 at 12:25 AM
I will anxiously await the first Board of Finance budget workshop on Thursday at 6:30 to see (A) if any BOF members ask it to be postponed because they think they have to have the exact total of the revised Grand List before they talk to any department heads and (B) the nature of ALL questions regarding department budget requests to see how they relate to a 7% or a 9% Grand List decrease. Rookie mistakes.
Ben There February 23, 2012 at 12:35 AM
Boys, Boys let me make it simple for you.........don't raise taxes, work with what you get.
Sean That February 23, 2012 at 11:25 AM
Amen, Ben.
Arthur Cyr February 24, 2012 at 03:31 PM
Interesting BOF meeting (budget workshop) Thursday evening. Some of the interesting things that were discussed: 1. We often hear that its difficult to do business in Southington, especially starting and/or building a new business. The proposed new computer systems for the building department for permits should streamline that whole process. 2. The current computer system requires 1 1/2 people at the police department as well as people at Town Hall and at the Fire Department and the library to keep it current and an outside computer person that does upgrades and routine maintenance. That would all be consolidated into a new IT administrator. 3. All mobile communications (total 62 cell phones) are being put under one contract in the IT department rather than numerous contracts in many different departments. Thats another move that will save us money in the long run.

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