East Lyme trims budget after public hearing

East Lyme - The Board of Finance on Thursday reduced the 2013-14 town budget to $63,173,158, about a 1.54 percent increase over this year, following a public hearing.

The board anticipates a tax rate increase of 0.58 mills but said the number could fluctuate due to potential changes in revenue from the state.

At the public hearing, board Chairman Raymond Hart announced the town's upcoming initiatives, such as full-day kindergarten and the Amtrak beach. But he also addressed the recession's lingering impact on the region, as well as declining revenue in some areas, including in state funding.

Earlier this month, the finance board cut nearly $1 million from the proposed budget, including $650,000 from the budget approved by the Board of Education. The school budget presented at the hearing was $41,941,731, or a 1.76 percent increase over this year's budget.

More than 40 residents and town employees attended the hearing. Residents raised a variety of issues ranging from lowering the tax rate to providing additional support for education.

Several attendees said a proposed $15,000 cut to the library budget would affect its services. Lisa Timothy, the library's director, said the reduction would mean cutting Monday morning, Monday evening or Sunday hours.

Zoning Commission Chairman Marc Salerno asked the board on behalf of the commission to reinstate full funding for the zoning official. The finance board had cut $16,000, reducing the position to part-time. Salerno praised Zoning Official William Mulholland's "invaluable support" and said a five-day work week was necessary to keep up with town projects.

"As the economy starts to improve, we get busier," said Salerno about the zoning department.

In proposing to reduce the budget, resident Karen Rak suggested cutting funds to several departments whose budgets were set to increase by more than 10 percent.

At a special meeting after the hearing, the board approved reinstating funding for the zoning official but cut the zoning department's funding for a consultant. The board added back $5,793 to support upgrades to the vision appraisal system.

It also reinstated half of the $15,000 cut from the library board, which Timothy said she could work with to cut materials rather than services.

The board trimmed funding for line items, including $17,000 for health insurance benefits and $10,000 for heating costs in anticipation of savings next year. The board also approved adding an additional $150,000 in surplus funds to be put toward revenue.

The town meeting on the budget will be held at 7 p.m. on May 13 at the high school.

k.drelich@theday.com

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