Old Lyme taxes up less than 1 percent

Old Lyme — Residents unanimously approved funding for a rewritten retirement plan for volunteer firefighters and ambulance workers at Monday's annual town meeting, an outcome that Old Lyme South End Volunteer Ambulance Association President Claire Haskins called "good news."

The town's 2018-19 spending plan also passed unanimously at the meeting attended by about 50 residents and local officials in the Lyme-Old Lyme Middle School auditorium. The Board of Finance later on Monday night set the tax rate for next year at 21.91 mills, a less than 1 percent increase over the current tax rate of 21.75 mills.

As at last month's public hearing, Board of Finance Chairman Andy Russell gave an overview of the highlights of the town’s 2018-19 spending plan of $36,301,175, a slight decrease over the current year’s budget of $36,355,031.

General government is increasing by 1.71 percent; capital is decreasing by 1.13 percent; and Old Lyme's share of the Lyme-Old Lyme Board of Education budget is decreasing by 0.72 percent, as the district is returning unspent money from the 2016-17 school year to the town, according to the presentation.

The town's spending plan covers items that include a mosquito control program; a study of Halls Road improvements; higher liability and health insurance costs; $15,000 to study what needs to be done to repair Lower Mill Pond Dam; road overlay, and an LED light conversion and insulation project at Town Hall.

The Board of Finance is proposing to use $300,000 of the town's surplus to keep the town's tax rate low. The money will go toward replacing the Mile Creek Road Bridge over the Black Hall River, but more money will be needed for the total project, likely in next year's budget, Russell said.

After voting on the budget, residents approved a twice-yearly payment schedule of taxes and supported allowing the first selectwoman to execute an agreement for a restated retirement plan with the ambulance association and Old Lyme Fire Department and for the town to spend up to $80,000 for legal and disbursement fees associated with rewriting the plan.

First Selectwoman Bonnie Reemsndyer said the volunteer pension committee was informed in early 2017 that it had to change recordkeepers, as the company it had been using no longer did that work. The town made the change and during the process learned that components of the retirement plan were "not in keeping with IRS code" and needed to be amended, she said.

In addition to the town attorney, the town hired a specialized attorney and a new third-party administrator, PASI, a Connecticut-based company, to ensure compliance, Reemsnyder said.

She said the town at first believed it could absorb the legal fees within the budget, but the fees ended up being more than expected.

After the meeting, Reemsndyer said she was thankful to the people who came to support the budget and the Board of Finance for its work. She said she was glad the votes on the retirement plan went "without a hitch" and the town could move forward.

k.drelich@theday.com

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