Preston voters reject school spending plan, approve town budget

Preston — Voters overwhelming rejected the proposed school budget, while approving the town government budget Tuesday in a referendum that featured a turnout nearly triple that of recent past budget referendums.

Voters rejected the school budget 370-279, and approved the town budget by a 348-299 vote.

Both budgets called for spending increases over this year's budgets, with the school budget at a 4.5 percent increase.

“It's disappointing,” Board of Education Chairwoman Jan Clancy said.

She said the school board cannot make any adjustments until the Board of Finance recommends a revised budget.

The Board of Finance will hold a special meeting Tuesday to address the budget vote, Chairman Norman Gauthier said.

The approved town government budget totaled $3.4 million, a $95,454, or 2.8 percent, increase over this year's budget.

First Selectman Robert Congdon said he was pleased with the result of the vote, and said it affirmed that residents want to keep the two resident state troopers, rather than reduce to one trooper.

The two resident troopers cost $322,650, an $83,000 increase over this year's total because the town is required to cover a greater share of the expense.

“I'm glad it passed,” Congdon said of the entire budget. “I think we presented a fair and frugal budget. One question out there was whether we should have one or two resident troopers. I support having two resident troopers.”

The $11.3 million school budget included a $488,250 increase over this year's education budget.

The Board of Finance had cut $56,647, or 0.5 percent, from the initial requested school budget.

The combined town and school budgets, plus $801,000 for debt service and $243,000 in state-reimbursed roadwork and capital improvements, would have required a tax rate of 24.8 mills, a 1.8-mill increase over this year.

The finance board used $400,000 from the town's healthy $2.4 million surplus fund to reduce the tax increase.

Resident William Legler argued at the recent budget town meeting that the answer to the rise in taxes was to use additional money from the surplus fund to erase the increase.

Legler's proposal, however, was deemed out of order because residents cannot add to spending during the budget town meeting — even though his plan would have reduced taxes in the coming year.

The budget turnout of 652 topped the turnout in the 2015 municipal election, and nearly tripled the 243 votes cast in last May's budget referendum and the 248 votes in a special referendum in September 2015.

Republican Registrar Len Spencer said he ran out of the 500 ballots he had ordered, and had to photocopy another 180 paper ballots for Tuesday's vote.

Those ballots were hand counted and added to the totals.

At least one voter wrote in a vote on the proposal by the Mohegan Tribe to purchase the former Norwich Hospital property.

“I won't say whether it was yes or no,” Spencer said.

c.bessette@theday.com

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