North Stonington budget preview presents optimistic outlook

North Stonington - Joined by Sen. Andy Maynard, the Boards of Finance, Selectmen and Education gave a preview of this year's budget season, painting a cautiously optimistic picture of the town's fiscal future.

Calling it a "very serious year," First Selectman Nicholas Mullane said he is still waiting to see what the legislature's final budget looks like, including whether it will include new unfunded mandates - expenses the town has fought for years.

And with the amount of snowfall this winter, Mullane warned that the current budget can handle two more storms before it begins to affect next year's. He added that the general government operating budget will have to be trimmed no matter what.

Though Mullane said some areas of state revenue ended up in excess of what was originally anticipated - such as local and magnet school transportation and telecommunications reimbursement - others were negatively affected, such as education cost-sharing.

Superintendent Peter Nero called the school district "fiscally sound," noting that the departures of several teachers during the school year have alleviated some costs.

Nero will not be giving his official budget presentation to the Board of Education until next month; however, the board will hear a formal presentation Monday on two different plans for a long-awaited school renovation project.

Earlier this month, Nero's draft called for a 2.19 percent increase, which would bring next year's budget up to $12.9 million.

Board of Finance Chairman Dan Spring said the town will be retiring a significant amount of debt this year, maintaining the town's A1 credit rating and leaving room to take on the anticipated debt for a new $6.36 emergency services complex voters approved last summer.

However, Spring added that an anticipated growth of less than 1 percent in the town's grand list will impose revenue restrictions on budget plans. Proposals for the next fiscal year should be "as close as possible" to this year's, he said, and prioritize any new expenditures.

"I would encourage you to really be smart in developing your budgets," he said.

Citing the election year, Maynard said that the town can expect little change in state aid - no more and no less.

"It tends to be a year where they try to keep things pretty steady and quiet," he said.

Maynard noted the controversy over Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's proposed tax rebate to residents, calling it a "hasty indulgence" that does not suit towns well economically, and saying that he hopes there will be some pushback from the legislature before the budget is approved.

Though he could offer no promises on unfunded mandates, Maynard said the town will likely be flat-funded.

"I think you can count on probably stable numbers for next year," he said.

a.isaacs@theday.com

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