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East Lyme - The Board of Finance approved $978,607 in budget reductions Wednesday, resulting in a town budget for next year of $63,199,865, or a 1.58 percent increase over this year's budget.
The board reduced the Board of Education budget by $650,000, general government by $146,223 and capital by $182,384.
The education budget now stands at $41,941,731, a 1.76 percent increase over this year; general government budget at $15,488,160, a 1.58 percent increase; and capital at $988,015, a 24 percent increase.
Many residents addressing the board Wednesday discussed the school board's $42,591,731 budget request. One of the new programs in the budget was $426,000 for full-day kindergarten, as well as $133,000 for state-mandated teacher evaluations.
Some residents told the board that they had moved to East Lyme for the school system and pointed out that full-day kindergarten is becoming increasingly important now that the state is implementing common core standards. But others asserted the importance of holding the budget line to keep the town affordable and prevent tax increases.
One of the residents who spoke Wednesday was Superintendent James Lombardo, who said he was speaking as a property owner and businessman. He recounted an anecdote of how when he first moved to town, he read that a major magazine had honored East Lyme as one of its top 100 small towns. The schools - in addition to the beaches - were the reasons cited, not low taxes, he said.
In deliberations, Board of Finance Chairman Raymond Hart explained that the board does not have line item control over the education budget. He referenced the quality of education in town but explained that it was a tough year with less money from the state and a rise in the town's budget.
Finance board member Lisa Picarazzi added that "requesting fiscal responsibility does not mean we're not supporting education."
School board Chairman Tim Hagen said he was a little disappointed with the board's decision to cut $650,000 from the education budget, explaining that it would benefit the town to present the education budget as it stood to voters. Over the past five years, there have been "enormous cost savings in our school district" and also "increased transparency" in the budget process, he said.
"I really think we have done due diligence in terms of cost savings and what is right for the children," he said.
But he added that he was interested in working to find options that could both reduce the burden to the taxpayer and allow the district to move forward.
Hart recommended offsetting new initiatives with potential savings in health care benefits that could be realized during the current process of changing insurance carriers.
In trimming the town budget, the finance board made cuts such as $25,000 less for legal services and $18,000 less for health and dental care in anticipation of savings from a new insurance provider.
The finance board rescheduled the budget public hearing to allow for time to gather more information from the state legislature. The hearing is now set for 7 p.m. on April 25 in the high school auditorium.