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Finding Middle Ground: Waterford’s budget coming to a vote

Commencing on March 1, the Waterford Board of Finance meets every Monday and Wednesday until March 24 at 7 p.m. in a series of Zoom meetings due to COVID-19 restrictions to consider the town budget for fiscal year 2022. Although the public is encouraged to view any these budget hearings, the Board of Finance will make its final recommendation to the Representative Town Meeting on March 24 after a public hearing. Unless COVID 19 restrictions are lifted by then, public comments will have to be submitted to the Board of Finance secretary.

The RTM will hold its FY2021 budget deliberations May 3 to 6. After the budget is approved by the RTM, the Board of Finance will set the tax mill rate. The current mill rate for fiscal year 2021 is 27.87, down from the 2020 rate of 27.98, but still greater than the 27.42 mill rate in 2019.

All town general government department, board, and agency budgets were reviewed and approved by the Board of Selectmen before being forwarded to the Board of Finance for approval. The Board of Selectmen completed its budget hearings on Feb. 10. The Board of Selectmen reduced the proposed budget by $22,799 from that recommended by the various boards, agencies and departments.

The Board of Selectmen did not review the Board of Education budget. Although the Superintendent of Schools has submitted a budget recommendation, the Board of Education was to complete its review on Feb. 25. The budget figure is the recommendation of the superintendent.

The grand total of general government, capital and debt service and Board of Education budget requests as approved by the Board of Selectmen and recommended by the Superintendent of Schools is $97,673,241. This is an increase of $1,695,011 or 1.77% from the current year budget of $95,978,230.

The initial budget request to the Board of Finance was $97,721,523. The Board of Finance and RTM reduced that request to the current budget of $95,978,230, a reduction of $1,743,293. This 1.25% budget decrease resulted in a 0.39% tax decrease in the current fiscal year.

Although the finance director has not provided an official estimate of revenue from sources other than taxes at press time, it probably will not be more than the $3,891,938 that was received in the current fiscal year. The Board of Finance will be briefed on the most up to date revenue estimate at its March 8 budget meeting. Additional funding for COVID-19 relief is unknown at this time.

Unofficially, the grand list has increased, before any appeals to the Board of Assessment Appeals, to $3,387,908,016, a rise of 1.71%. Using those figures the estimated tax decrease to support the budget presented by the Board of Selectmen is 0.68% to a mill rate of 27.68, down from the current mill rate of 27.87.

I emphasize, these are my calculations and not an official calculation from the Waterford Finance Department.

The total requested general government gperating budget is $34,645,207. This is an increase of $570,211, or 1.66%, from the current year budget of $34,359,165.

Much of the budget increases come from the capital budget increase of $748,074, or 33.75%, to $2,964,754; the building maintenance budget increase of $525,825, or 207.80%, to $778,870; the fire services budget increase of $309,593, or 9.98%, to $3,411,155; the debt service increase of $305,843, or 4.01%, to $7,934,633; and the public works budget increase of $20,447, or 0.436%, to $4,709,654.

Most of the other budgets decreased, mainly due to the transfer of utilities such as electricity, oil, and gas from individual departments to the building maintenance budget.

The Board of Education budget proposed by the Superintendent of $51,153,047 is a $780,732, or 1.55%, increase from the current budget of $50,372,315. The Board of Finance only has bottom line approval of the Board of Education budget.

The building maintenance, public works, debt service and capital budgets will be reviewed by the Board of Finance on March 17, and the Board of Education budget will be reviewed on March 22.

Other large ticket budgets to be reviewed include the police commission budget proposal of $6,421,688 and emergency management budget of $1,062,665, decreases of $29,053 or 0.45% and $24,593 or 2.26%, respectively, over the current year budgets of $6,450,741 and $1,087,258.

The information technology budget of $846,642 is an increase of $21,674 or 2.63% from the current budget of $824,968. The Board of Finance contingency budget of $265,000 for is unchanged from the current year. The Waterford Public Library is requesting $999,475, $70,188 or 6.56% below the current year budget of $1,069,663. The library, police commission, emergency management, information technology, Board of Finance and contingency budgets will be the first budgets that will be reviewed when the hearings commence on March 1.

The Recreation and Parks Department is requesting $1,450,159, a decrease of $61,456 or 4.07% from the current budget of 1,511,615.

There is no Community Use of Schools budget in line with the gradual reduction to zero that was approved by the Representative Town Meeting in June 2018. These budgets will be reviewed on March 3 along with the ethics commission, youth and family services, senior services, and miscellaneous other budgets.

On March 8, the Board of Finance will review the land and building use budgets, including the Economic Development Commission, the Conservation Commission, Planning and Zoning Commission, Zoning Board of Appeals, building department and flood and erosion control. These budgets total $944,446, a decrease of $7,518 from the current budgets.

On March 10, after the regular Board of Finance meeting, the Board of Finance will review budget requests from Board of Selectmen, registrar of voters, assessor, Board of Assessment Appeals, tax collector, town clerk and RTM. The total requested by these budgets is $1,073,848, an increase of $20,630 or 1.95% increase from the current budget total of $1,053,218.

In addition to the fire services budget discussed above, on March 15 the Board of Finance will review the Retirement Commission budget of $5,682,906, a decrease of $300,072 or 5.02% from the current budget of $5,982,978, and the insurance budget of $4,717,903, a $59,903 or 1.29% increase from the current budget of $4,658,000. The budgets for legal expenses, human resources, and finance department will also be reviewed on March 15.

The Board of Finance hearings for the public works, capital, and CNR funds are on March 17. Other budgets that will be reviewed on that date are debt service and building maintenance.

The estimated general fund unassigned balance of Dec. 31, 2021, was $18,864,476 or 19.38% of the proposed budget. This balance is well above the 10-13% range established by the Board of Finance’s unreserved fund balance policy.

All of the budget figures noted above are proposals that may be decreased but not increased by the Board of Finance and the RTM. The total of the budget minus the expected revenues will determine the amount of dollars needed to be raised by property taxes. The dollars needed, plus the expected percentage of collections will determine your taxes in July 2021 and January 2022. The Board of Finance and the RTM have their work cut out for them to see if there are any reductions possible. To lower the proposed budgets, it may be necessary to reduce services. Public input always makes for a more intelligent decision.

Check out the various department budgets on the town’s website, waterfordct.org.

To make a comment at any Board of Finance meeting, contact Maryellen McConnell, Board of Finance secretary, by clicking on her name on the finance department page. Comments will be provided to the Board of Finance during the public comment period of the budget hearings. Submit to the town clerk for the RTM meetings and make your voices heard. The members of the Board of Finance and the RTM are very interested in your inputs.

John W. “Bill” Sheehan is a member of the Waterford Board of Finance.

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