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.