Preston finance board cuts budgets for second try at voter approval

Preston — The Board of Finance cut $60,000 from the proposed school budget and $40,000 from the town government budget in the wake of the June 11 referendum defeat of both budgets.

Residents rejected the proposed 2019-20 $3.9 million town budget by 19 votes and the proposed $12.1 million school budget by 43 votes during the referendum.

The Board of Finance cut $40,000 from the general government budget, including freezing salaries of all three selectmen positions and making numerous small cuts throughout the budget. But members said they were not in favor of cutting the proposed fire department budget, which would nearly double to $435,000 in Fire Chief Tom Casey’s plan to hire enough paid per diem firefighters/EMTs to cover all shifts 24 hours a day with at least two on-duty firefighters.

Nearly all the 12.56 percent increase in the original town government budget was attributable to the fire budget increase.

Casey reminded the Board of Finance on Wednesday that the fire department’s costs will be offset by $70,000 in revenues to be turned over to the town by the Poquetanuck Ambulance, which expects to see a boost in insurance revenues if the department is able to respond to more emergency medical calls.

Finance board members also flatly rejected a request by resident Andy Depta to reduce the town’s resident troopers from two to one. In past years, when cutting to one trooper was proposed, residents objected to the move during town meetings.

The board does not have control over specific line items in the school budget.

The board also approved member Ian Stammel’s proposal to take another $100,000 from the town’s undesignated surplus to offset budget expenses, bringing the total taken from surplus this year to $450,000. The reduction leaves an estimated $670,000 in the undesignated fund above the 9.5 percent of surplus left untouched by board policy to secure the town’s bond rating and for emergencies.

The town government budget is expected to end the current fiscal year with a $75,000 surplus to be added to the town surplus fund, and the school district is expected to return about $100,000 to the town surplus fund at the end of this fiscal year.

The combined moves would bring the proposed 2019-20 tax rate to 27.05 mills, up by 1.02 mills this year, a 3.9 percent increase.

The Board of Selectmen will hold a special meeting Thursday to schedule a town meeting on the new proposed budget for 7:30 p.m. June 27 and the referendum for July 9.

c.bessette@theday.com

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