Preston residents reject both town and school budgets

Preston — Voters rejected both the proposed town and school budgets at a referendum Tuesday, prompting town officials to schedule a joint meeting of the boards of finance, selectmen and education next week in an effort to revise the budget in time to schedule a second referendum by July 10.

Residents voted 352-240 to reject the proposed $11.9 million school budget, while the proposed $3.49 million town government budget was defeated by a closer 309-283 vote. The referendum had a voter turnout of about 21 percent.

"We need to have a full dialogue before we put numbers down,” Board of Finance Chairwoman Melissa Lennon said.

The joint meeting will be held at 7 p.m. Tuesday, June 19 at Town Hall.

First Selectman Robert Congdon said town and school officials will try to put together their best estimates for the remaining nearly three weeks of the 2017-18 fiscal year to have a better idea how much money will be in the town’s undesignated fund balance. The finance board had proposed using $160,000 from the surplus fund in next year’s budget, but might increase that amount rather than cut deeper into the two budgets, Lennon said.

She said there is some sentiment from residents to use more of the surplus to offset potential tax increases. The finance board doesn’t set a final tax rate until after the budgets are approved at referendum.

The Board of Finance already had cut $120,000 from each of the budgets submitted by the Board of Selectmen and the Board of Education. The school board held off on absorbing that cut, but prior to the budget town meeting, the Board of Selectmen made specific cuts, including reducing non-union town employee raises from 3 percent to 2 percent to save $14,000.

Selectmen also cut $45,164 from the resident trooper budget, which would effectively cancel a second resident trooper before the end of the fiscal year when the money runs out. Several residents objected to the cut during the budget town meeting, however.

If the Board of Finance sets proposed budgets on June 19, the Board of Selectmen would meet June 21 to schedule a budget town meeting for June 28 and the second budget referendum for July 10.

c.bessette@theday.com

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