East Lyme residents to vote on $74 million budget Thursday

East Lyme — Culminating a five-month budget process, in which First Selectman Mark Nickerson said “every line and every figure was examined over and over again,” residents will finally head to the polls Thursday to vote on a proposed $74.1 million town budget.

With a 2.52 percent, or $1.8 million, increase over this year’s spending plan, the total town budget, which includes general government, education, debt service and capital spending, seeks to “deliver the high-quality services the people expect from the East Lyme government,” while also “running a very efficient government,” Nickerson said Tuesday.

“Our mill rate will also remain very competitive,” he added. “Below average compared to other towns our size.”

Should that mill rate, proposed at 28.19 mills — 0.84 mill higher than this year’s 27.35 mill rate — pass Thursday, a home assessed at $250,000 would pay an increase of $210 in taxes next year, while a home assessed at $450,000 would pay an additional $378, Finance Director Anna Johnson said Tuesday.

With the total town budget originally proposed at $74.6 million earlier this year, the Board of Finance has since cut $500,000 across the education, general government and capital improvement budgets in an effort to keep a reasonable tax-rate increase, finance board Vice Chair Lisa Picarazzi has said.

Originally seeking to reduce the proposed $49.5 million education budget by $500,000, the finance board altered that reduction to $250,000 after hundreds of residents came to speak against the decision at a budget hearing last month.

Picarazzi, who was filling in for Chair Bill Weber at that hearing, explained that while keeping the town’s older residents — many of whom live on fixed incomes — in mind, the town also is expecting $1.2 million less in revenue this upcoming fiscal year, with a $680,421 reduction in Education Cost Sharing aid from the state, among other limiting financial factors.

Following that budget hearing, the education board, as of Monday night, was still discussing where it would make cuts from its budget.

Superintendent Jeffrey Newton suggested that the board wait for the town to pass the total budget, thereby solidifying the numbers, before making final decisions. He also said that, should the budget not pass Thursday, it would be detrimental to the education budget.

As part of the total town budget, approximately $30,000 has been included to help hire an additional full-time police officer in January, while an additional $20,000 has been budgeted to help create a full-time dispatcher position, Nickerson said. Another $48,000 has been added to the library’s $1.2 million budget.

Nearly $200,000 has been budgeted for the hiring of two overnight firefighters. That spending, however, would be offset by revenues from the East Lyme Ambulance Association, which potentially has agreed to pay the salaries of the two positions combined over a three-year period, pending successful negotiations between the town and the ambulance association, which are ongoing.

Together, the two salaries are estimated to cost about $141,000, with an additional $59,000 estimated for their benefits.

As part of the $38 million elementary school renovation project, an additional $205,000 in debt payments has been included in next year's budget. The town began bonding for the renovations this fiscal year, Nickerson said, and also will account for a $2.7 million bond to be taken out this summer for the newly purchased police building on West Main Street.

Nickerson said that while the town is planning to pay more in debt payments this year, it will be retiring about $5 million in debt, as is typical annually.

The town also earmarked approximately $824,000 for capital projects — a $55,000 increase over this year's plan. Included in that is proposed funding for library carpeting and technology upgrades, among other requests.

The referendum will take place from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday at the East Lyme Community Center.

m.biekert@theday.com

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