Preston budgets going to referendum

Preston - About 30 residents voted unanimously Thursday to send both the proposed $10.6 million 2013-14 school budget and the $3.3 million town budget to referendum without changes.

But residents also lowered the proposed new tax rate by eliminating $100,000 from a capital fund.

The $10.6 million Board of Education budget calls for a 1.86 percent, $193,000 spending increase needed to keep all current programs and staffing in the two schools, while adding two staff members to the school bus garage. If approved at the May 14 referendum, it would be the first school budget spending increase in five years.

Residents also quickly accepted the $3.3 million town budget that includes 3 percent raises for town employees.

Most of Thursday's discussion centered on the town's expected revenues and the tax base after the recent revaluation of all taxed property. With the decline in the real estate market, the grand list dropped this year, to the point where one mill of collected taxes will total $374,174, as compared to the $447,676 raised by one mill last year.

Resident William Legler argued that with the recession still in force, "people are hurting," and the Board of Finance should have used more than $500,000 from the town's surplus to offset taxes. But because a town meeting cannot add expenses to the budget - spending more money from the surplus would constitute a spending increase - residents could not add to that amount Thursday.

But residents unanimously supported Legler's other proposal not to place $100,000 into a capital nonrecurring fund, saving about one-third of a mill.

The town and school budgets will go to referendum on May 14, with polls open from noon to 8 p.m. at Town Hall.

With the $100,000 subtraction, the new overall combined budgets - including debt service and capital expenditures - would total $14.9 million, with $8.9 million needed from property taxes. The tax rate would be 23.93 mills.

Board of Finance Chairman Jerry Grabarek said if the proposed budget were calculated on last year's grand list before revaluation, the tax increase would be about 0.5 mills over this year's tax rate of 19.43 mills.

Legler cautioned residents and town officials that the drop in property values will not be seen evenly across town.

Some properties, including his own, did not drop in value, meaning he and anyone else in that position would see a nearly 5-mill tax increase. Motor vehicle values also were not affected by the revaluation, so car taxes will rise nearly across the board.


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