Stonington residents approve budget

Stonington — Residents approved the proposed $73.6 million budget and its 0.68-mill tax rate increase by a 3-1 ratio at Tuesday’s referendum.

Just 9 percent of the town’s 14,128 registered voters cast ballots in the 890-334 approval.

After the results were announced, First Selectmen Rob Simmons said the lopsided approval and the low turnout showed residents were happy with the plan and all their questions had been answered prior to the vote.

Simmons said the finance, education and selectmen boards worked collaboratively at many meetings to come up with a transparent budget. It includes 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.

During recent discussions on the budget, school budget supporters urged the Board of Finance to restore the $330,000 cut it made to proposed school spending and fund a long list of capital improvements needed to complete the middle school consolidation project.

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. The board did better, submitting 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.

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.

The budget also includes additional funding for the Stonington Free Library and $80,000 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.

j.wojtas@theday.com

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