Old Lyme voters pass budget, 300-acre open space purchase

Old Lyme — With about 50 residents in attendance, voters unanimously approved the town’s total $38.9 million budget proposed for the 2019-20 fiscal year Monday night, as well as a 300-acre land purchase for open space.

Passed at $38.9 million, the budget, which includes general government, education, debt service and capital spending, reflects a $2.6 million, or 7.2 percent, increase from the current fiscal year's spending plan.

Having had to work through a list of needed capital improvements while also having to pay a larger-than-expected share of the Lyme-Old Lyme education budget next year — $1.2 million more than this year — the Board of Finance opted to appropriate $800,000 from the town’s approximate $8 million reserve fund this budget season in order to keep next year’s tax-rate increase low.

Set at 22.41 mills, next year’s mill rate was raised by just 0.5 mill, meaning a resident with a home assessed at $243,000 will pay an additional $122 in taxes next year, while a resident with a home assessed at $878,000 will pay an additional $439.

First Selectwoman Bonnie Reemsnyder said Tuesday that allocating money from the town’s reserve fund was necessary in order to not only keep next year’s tax increase low, but to keep the budget “as stable as possible over the long haul.”

“If we are going to have any increases, we would like to see them as just a slight increase,” she said. “To have a big bump doesn’t help future budgeting.”

Reemsnyder also explained that the town for years has allocated money from the surplus to help stabilize the tax rate, but for various reasons has not had to use the money in recent years.

She expects that “won’t be the case this year,” however.

“Nonetheless, we’ve been very prudent about using that money in the past,” she said.

Of $1.8 million expected to be spent toward capital improvements next year, the town is planning several bridge and road repairs as well a roof repair at the Cross Lane firehouse. A significant portion of that spending — or $630,000 — will go toward repairing town roads.

Offsetting much of the capital spending, though, will be two state grants — one for $427,000 and another for $400,000 — helping to pay for repairs at Mile Creek Road Bridge and sidewalks on Hartford Avenue. Accounting for those grants, Reemsnyder said capital spending will come in below what was spent on such items this year.

At a budget hearing last month, Finance Board member David Kelsey said the town is expecting more than a $1.2 million increase between its local and intergovernmental revenues.

Other highlights in next year's budget include an additional $113,000 to be spent toward medical insurance costs — a 23.7 percent increase over this year's spending — as well as an additional $44,000 to finance a townwide economic development study that will aid in planning proposed Halls Road improvements.

Open space

Residents on Monday also approved spending $600,000, allocated from the town's open space acquisition fund, to purchase a 300-acre property — known as the McCulloch property — for open space. Six acres of that property also potentially may be used for the construction of two affordable-housing homes, Reemsnyder said.

Abutting the eastern side of Whippoorwill Road and extending north of Interstate 95, the property has been owned and preserved by the McCulloch family since they purchased the land in the late 1920s. It has been kept in “pristine condition,” according to Open Space Commission Co-Chair Amanda Blair.

She has said that three trails are being planned for the property, one of which already is underway and will be open to the public in coming weeks.

Citizen of the year

As part of Monday's Town Meeting, Reemsnyder also named Bob Doyen as the 2018 Citizen of the Year. Doyen, who has been a member of Old Lyme’s Harbor Management Commission for the last 25 years, serving both as its treasurer and vice chair, also is an active member of the Old Lyme Volunteer Fire Department. Joining in 1988, Doyen has served as its lieutenant, as well as its purchasing agent.

“Bob is really humble,” Reemsnyder said. “He does not look for the spotlight at all and he would do anything for anyone and would be perfectly happy not to have wide acknowledgement of it. He’s just been a very good citizen.”

m.biekert@theday.com

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