North Stonington's $18.47 million budget headed to referendum
North Stonington — After the annual town meeting Tuesday night, the town's proposed $18.47 million budget is on its way to a June 2 referendum.
The budget would result in a 0.25 mill rate increase for residents, bringing the overall rate to 26.10 mills. At the referendum, residents will vote for it in two parts: whether to approve a budget of about $12.76 million for education and whether to approve a budget of about $5.7 million for general government, capital and debt redemption costs.
About 40 residents showed up to Tuesday night's meeting, asking several questions.
Some, such as Brian Rathbun, questioned why the library was slated to receive $50,000 in addition to its annual allocation of $26,000 to renovate its aging windows. Others, such as Joe Gross, wondered why a $19,500 expense for magnet school transportation — something he thought should be handled by the Board of Education — is now in the general government budget.
Board of Finance Chairman Dan Spring said the $19,500 represents a state grant that comes in to the town and not to the Board of Education, which is why the expenditure is reflected in the general government budget.
"It's a wash," Spring said.
Gross, too, pointed out a discrepancy between the numbers listed in the proposed budget as "Actual 2013/14" revenues and expenses, and the numbers listed in independent auditor Sandra Welwood's report as the same.
For example, he noted that the proposed budget lists the "sanitary landfill – sale of recyclables" revenue line item as having garnered $18,000 in the 2013-14 year, while the audit lists the same item at $23,898.
Spring said the reason for the difference is that Welwood groups several line items in her audit, which appears to boost figures.
But some expenditure line items, such as "state aided – improved town roads," have no other line items around them that could have been grouped together. The proposed budget lists that one at an actual cost of $121,976, but the independent audit says the town actually spent $129,867 on it in the 2013-14 year.
Gross said he believes the numbers listed in the budget for that year are from the final budget approved and don't reflect actual revenues and expenditures.
"If we can't put '13-14 actual' (expenditures) in here," Gross said, holding up the printed out budget, "do we really know what we're doing with our money?"
Polls on June 2 will be open 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Residents Tuesday night also "authorized and empowered" the Board of Selectmen to obtain up to $1 million in loans "in anticipation of" the receipt of tax collections and/or federal or state grants.
As such, the loans can be taken out without a town meeting, but the Board of Finance is to "receive, as early as possible, prior notification of any borrowing."
Some, such as Van Brown, questioned what "in anticipation" means, saying they'd be more comfortable if an emergency town meeting were called in such a situation.
First Selectman Nick Mullane said the measure has been approved several times in the past and has never been used. Selectmen's Assistant Robin Roohr explained it would only be necessary if an unexpected shortfall — such as a budget that doesn't pass after several referendums or an extreme shortage in tax revenue — means there's no money to give the Board of Education as the school year approaches.
Additionally, the townspeople agreed the town should enter into a two-year agreement for the services of three resident state troopers to begin July 1.
Some questioned whether three troopers for two years was a good idea, given talk at the state level of having towns bear the full cost of the troopers, but Mullane said it shouldn't be a problem.
"As we understand, they are not changing anything" regarding the troopers, Mullane said, adding that he believes he can change the contract if the state decides to have towns foot 100 percent of the cost of each trooper rather than 70 percent.