Town meeting, referendum scheduled on Stonington budget

Stonington — A town meeting on the proposed $73.6 million budget and its 0.68-mill tax rate increase will be held at 7 p.m. Monday at Stonington High School.

There will be no vote at the town meeting, as residents will instead vote on the budget at an April 30 referendum. The polls will be open that day from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the following locations: Districts 1 and 3, Stonington Borough Fire Department; District 2, Pawcatuck Fire Department: Districts 4 and 5, B. F. Hoxie Engine Co. firehouse, Mystic Fire Department. The results will be announced at 8:30 p.m. in Town Hall.

The proposed budget calls for a $3.9 million, or 4.8 percent, increase that would boost the tax rate to 23.36 mills. The finance board also appropriated more than $3 million from its undesignated fund balance to pay for capital items.

At the Board of Finance public hearing on the budget last week, school budget supporters urged the board to restore the $330,000 cut it made to the school budget and fund a long list of capital improvements needed to complete the middle school consolidation project.

At the hearing, Superintendent of Schools Van Riley pointed out that because of operational savings due to the middle school consolidation, the finance board had asked the school board to present a budget with no more than a 0.2 percent increase. He said the school board did better than that, with a proposed budget that was $5,000 less than one with a no percentage increase. But the Board of Finance reduced it by an additional $330,000. He said if the board restored the money, it would be used for maintenance in the schools.

The finance board then restored $75,000 of the cut funding, with the possibility that more could be restored depending on cuts in state aid and whether the town is violating the state’s minimum education budget requirement. The finance board set aside another $255,000 to cover that possibility.

It also restored $65,000 for baseboard heating in science rooms, gym wall padding and new cafeteria tables at the new consolidated Stonington Middle School.

But Board of Finance Chairwoman June Strunk said it would be better for the school board to come up with a package of other capital improvements, such as the $600,000 for heating, air conditioning and ventilation upgrades at the high school, that could be bonded over 20 years instead of placing the projects in the budget that would increase the tax rate in one year.

The finance board also has appropriated $80,000 in the budget to initiate an engineering study to determine the scope and cost of extending sidewalks from the high school to downtown Pawcatuck, which some residents again are urging the town to do.

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