Salem Board of Finance OKs budget with 2.7% increase

Salem - The Board of Finance last week approved a budget proposal of $14,771,127, a $391,793 or 2.7 percent increase over the current budget.

A public hearing on the 2013-14 budget will be held at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Salem School, and the Board of Finance will meet the next day to incorporate any changes that it decides are necessary based on public comments. The updated budget will then be presented at a town meeting by First Selectman Kevin Lyden.

The tax rate, which determines the rate of property taxes, won't be set until after the public approves the budget. The Board of Finance is hoping to keep the tax rate under 30 mills.

At the town meeting, the budget can only be adjusted down. It is then voted on at a referendum, and if it is not approved, the finance board must adjust it and bring it back to the public.

This year's budget includes a 2 percent raise for all town officials and a 5.93 percent raise for the first selectman, bringing that salary to $62,500 a year.

The Board of Education's budget was the most controversial one. The school board requested a 4.08 percent increase but was given about 1 percent less than that.

George Householder, the finance board clerk, was reluctant to approve an increase in the school budget because of Connecticut 's Minimum Budget Requirement, which would prevent Salem from decreasing the school budget by more than 0.5 percent next year.

The inability to decrease the education budget would lock the town into a "downward death spiral," Householder said. He said the increase in spending would increase taxes and that the school should not be increasing its budget when enrollment is decreasing.

School board members argued that many increased costs, such as special education tuition, are outside of their control. They also said that it costs a certain amount to maintain the school, regardless of how many students attend it.

The school board also requested $437,560 under the capital plan for technology updates, which the finance board approved. Finance board member William Weinschenker said that "it's clear that at some point this is going to be necessary."

k.catalfamo@theday.com

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