Simmons outlines Stonington budget challenges

Stonington — In the budget address that accompanied his proposed general government and capital improvement budgets for 2018-19, First Selectman Rob Simmons outlined a host of fiscal challenges that face the town.

He said the state “reneged on some of its promises” it made in the current fiscal year and also eliminated state aid for road and capital improvements. The town now is facing a $1.6 million decrease in state education aid in the 2018-19 budget.

In addition, it is facing a $1.8 million increase in debt payments due to the elementary school and Mystic River Boathouse Park projects.

The anticipated cost to replace highway department vehicles is estimated at more than $1.8 million dollars over five years and there is a $400,000 item in the budget to complete the funding to replace and upgrade the police department’s aging radio system.

On the positive side, he said new policies and operational procedures, especially those being implemented by the Department of Public Works, will improve efficiency and service and save money.

Simmons added that applications for building permits have risen 11 percent and the total value of projects under construction, approved or under consideration is estimated at $184 million.

Town staff have obtained more than $3.7 million in grant funding for projects and the tax collector’s office is collecting 99 percent of taxes.

The grand list shows a healthy growth of 4.6 percent, which Simmons attributed to the recent revaluation and efforts to welcome new development that is “compatible with the history, culture and character of our town.”

“When we think of a budget, we often get distracted by columns of figures. There is a tendency to do what we can to keep the numbers down relative to the previous year. This is a very natural response, especially when times are tough. Our taxpaying constituents deserve the best we can deliver, which often goes to the bottom line. But it is also true that a budget is a monetary reflection of the public policies (that) we embrace,” Simmons told the board in his budget address. “We want good schools. We want good roads and bridges. We want our fellow citizens to feel safe, which means we want a good police force, fire departments and emergency services. We want the best people we can find to serve our wonderful town — and all this costs money. So we have to look beyond the simple expenditures to see the policies they reflect and the return on investment, which we hope will occur in the coming fiscal year.”

On Thursday night, Simmons reviewed the budgets with the Board of Finance. The $21.7 million general government budget shows a 2.8 percent increase while the capital improvement budget of $2.8 million is down 16 percent.

The proposed town, school, debt and capital budget would create a tax rate of 22.90 mills, which is a 0.08 mill decrease. The small decrease, however, is in large part due to the revaluation, which showed a grand list increase of 4.6 percent. To accurately determine whether the proposed budget would increase their tax bill, property owners must multiply their new assessment by the proposed tax rate and then compare that to their current tax bill.

The school board is slated to present its budget and its 2.9 percent increase to the finance board next Wednesday. Next Thursday, the finance board will begin its deliberations to finalize a proposed budget to send to a public hearing.

j.wojtas@theday.com

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