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Preston voters reject town, school budgets for second time

Preston — Voters on Tuesday rejected both the proposed $3.89 million town government budget and the proposed $12 million school budget in the second budget referendum, forcing the Board of Finance to authorize emergency spending to cover payroll, insurance, utilities and other immediate expenses.

Voters rejected the proposed school budget 419-347 and voted down the town government budget 405-359.

“We’ve been here before,” Board of Finance member Kenneth Zachem said during a special meeting minutes after the vote totals were announced.

“Last year,” Chairman Jerry Grabarek said.

Almost. Last summer, voters rejected the town and school budgets in the first referendum, but approved the town budget in the second vote, rejecting the school budget, which was approved on the third vote.

The finance board voted Tuesday to authorize using town undesignated surplus funds to cover $314,636 in school employees’ payroll, insurance, utilities and other immediate costs through Aug. 9, and authorized up to $50,000 to cover town employee payroll for this week. The board will address additional immediate town government spending needs at its regular meeting Wednesday, July 17.

The finance board did not address making any budget cuts Tuesday but scheduled a special meeting for 7 p.m. Thursday at Town Hall to discuss possible cuts for the town and school budgets. The earliest dates for the third town votes would be July 25 for a town meeting and Aug. 6 for the third referendum, Grabarek said.

The schedule is expected to be discussed by the finance board at its July 17 meeting, with the Board of Selectmen possibly holding a special meeting on July 18 to set the town meeting and referendum schedule.

The failed $12 million school budget called for a 1.86 percent, or $220,195, increase over this year’s budget, includes 4.1 added positions — a new part-time school social worker, 2.5 new paraeducator positions and one new bus driver. Also, a half day would be added to the current part-time special education director and a full day added to the school psychologist, bringing that position from four days a week to five days. Superintendent Roy Seitsinger said the fifth day for the school psychologist would be funded through the school system’s federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act grant.

The 11.4 percent increase in the $3.89 million town budget was driven mainly by a proposal from Fire Chief Tom Casey to hire enough per diem part-time firefighters/EMTs to cover all shifts, seven days a week.

The fire department increase for per diem responders alone would be $236,636, a 208 percent increase over this year, and the overall fire department budget would be responsible for about $300,000 of the $397,000 town budget increase.

Residents at both town meetings supported the school budget as presented. Resident Andy Depta’s attempt to cut the town budget by $126,000, including reducing to one resident state trooper, was soundly defeated. Residents supported the proposed increases for the fire department.


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