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Mayor struggles with Montville budget

By Jeffrey A. Johnson

Publication: The Day

Published April 07. 2012 4:00AM

Montville - Ronald K. McDaniel Jr. spent two years earlier in his career analyzing departmental budgets as a legislative budget analyst in the state General Assembly's Office of Fiscal Analysis.

The experience provided some fitting preparation for what McDaniel, now the town's mayor, has been facing.

Along with other town officials, the first-year mayor has spent a lot of time in recent months crafting the town's budget, which is expected to deliver one of the biggest tax increases in recent memory.

McDaniel is scheduled to present the proposed spending plan to the Town Council Monday night.

"I said before, 'I'm not going to lie and say that taxes aren't going to go up,' " McDaniel said earlier this week. "We will hold everything to an absolute necessary level to remain (at) an adequate level of services.

"Certain things you can't compromise on. All in all, when it's presented, people will see we looked long and hard and took a hard line on a lot of things," he said.

The town's struggles in this budget season stem from a significant loss of revenue.

The closure of AES Thames, the town's top taxpayer at more than $1.2 million annually, and the defunct power plant's ongoing bankruptcy case have kept Montville from collecting on the plant's tax bill. McDaniel previously said that he is moving forward with the expectation that the town will not receive the AES Thames tax payment this year or next.

But the loss of AES Thames isn't all that's plaguing the budget. A recent townwide property revaluation has lowered the grand list of taxable property by nearly 15 percent. The school district budget will lose $600,000 when federal stimulus funds earmarked for education expire this year. And the town must make its first $1.35 million payment on the debt it assumed in settling the Rand-Whitney Containerboard lawsuit.

All of these factors are expected to make this budget season challenging. This year's budget was 1.5 percent more than the 2010-11 budget.

"I'm anticipating it being among one of the most difficult because of the economy and the loss of revenue," Town Council Chairwoman Candy Buebendorf said. "We have lost revenue from the AES Thames bankruptcy. That's going to hurt us.

"We have had the revaluation, which means the mill rate has to go up to offset the lower tax assessment for houses and businesses. There's going to be a perception of things being higher because the mill rate has to go up."

There will be a public hearing on April 16 on the school budget and another the next night on the general government budget. Both public hearings will be at 7 p.m. at the Town Hall.

The proposed school budget is $37.6 million - 2.72 percent - above the current year's spending plan.

The school budget traditionally accounts for about two-thirds of the overall budget.

When asked whether crafting the budget was the biggest challenge of his administration, McDaniel noted several recent town developments as difficult: several fires, with two being ruled attempted arson; a child finding human remains off Oxoboxo Dam Road; and ongoing union negotiations.

But the budget and its many complexities have created a unique fiscal test for the mayor.

"Each one in itself is major," McDaniel said of incidents of lost revenue. "When you start adding them up, it takes a quick toll on the mill rate."

jeff.johnson@theday.com

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