Preston officials to try a third time to win budget approval

Preston — The Board of Finance made nominal cuts in the school and town budgets Thursday, but agreed to use another $200,000 from the town’s surplus fund to reduce the projected tax increase to less than a half-mill as town officials head to a third referendum attempt to approve the budgets.

The board cut $23,040 from the $3.89 million town government budget and $25,000 from the $12 million school budget. The board voted 5-1, with member Ian Stammel voting against it, to add $200,000 from the surplus fund to the $450,000 approved previously to offset taxes this year. With the $650,000 in surplus, the proposed tax rate would be 26.43 mills, an increase of 0.4 mill over this year’s tax rate.

Following the finance board’s special meeting to adjust the budget, the Board of Selectmen set the third budget town meeting for 7:30 p.m. Thursday at the Preston Plains Middle School and the referendum for Tuesday, July 30.

The Board of Finance started a line-by-line review of the town budget for the third time Thursday, but Fire Chief Thomas Casey asserted that residents have to realize his proposal to hire per diem firefighters/EMTs to cover all shifts is driving the 11 percent town budget increase.

Casey said of the $397,679 increase in the second town budget, defeated at Tuesday’s referendum, $240,779 was for his proposed 200 percent increase in the emergency services budget to resolve a critical shortage of volunteer emergency responders. The Poquetanuck Ambulance Co. has pledged to contribute $70,000 in revenues to the town to offset part of that increase.

Most other increases in the town budget were for contractual increases, including a $17,165 hike in recycling costs, $25,219 more in pension obligations and a $102,971 in health insurance costs.

“So, if you do the math, the emergency services request is actually 98.7 percent of the overall controllable increase,” Casey said. “So now we’re going to sit here and talk about more cuts?”

Resident William Legler told the finance board he voted against both the town and school budgets, not to object to the spending. Legler repeated his annual complaint that the board needs to use more money from the town’s undesignated surplus to offset the tax increase. He said the 1-mill increase in the second budget is what residents objected to, not the fire costs or the school budget.

“The problem is a 1-mill increase,” Legler told the finance board Thursday. “It’s not the budgets. If you use more of the surplus to reduce the mill rate, you don’t have a problem.”

c.bessette@theday.com

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