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Stonington finance board finalizes budget for referendum vote

Stonington — Following a virtual public hearing on Thursday, the Board of Finance approved a proposed 2021-22 budget that calls for a 0.49 mill tax rate increase.

The $73.1 million budget and 23.85 mill tax rate will now go to an April 19 town meeting, which will be followed by a referendum vote.  

Board of Finance Chairman Tim O'Brien opened the hearing by saying the board tried to conduct the budget process in the most transparent and public way possible. He praised town department heads for their exemplary presentations, which explained the needs of each department.

"We really listened to what the needs of the town are and not just the wants of the town," he said.

Pointing out the tough times with the COVID-19 pandemic, he said the board would have liked to have done more with the budget but the goal is to always not have a large impact on taxpayers. He added that, despite the "trying times," the town's tax collection rate remains very high. He also explained that the more than $4.3 million slated to come to the town from the American Rescue Plan is not figured into the budget.

During the less than 30-minute hearing, O'Brien said the board received 25 letters from people urging the board to retain funding for the Mystic & Noank Library. The proposed budget calls for town funding for the library to remain at $111,500.

He also read a letter from former First Selectman Rob Simmons, who urged the board to fully fund a $40,400 position to hire a community outreach specialist for the Human Services Department to help address a large increase in requests for assistance with issues such as domestic violence and mental health. Simmons said the impact of the pandemic has created an unprecedented situation that won't go away soon. That position remained in the budget and will be partially offset by offers from Selectwomen June Strunk and Deborah Downie to give back $10,000 each of their salaries.

Resident Rick Newton also urged the board to fund a climate change resiliency fund and create a full-time position that would deal with climate, environmental and flood plan issues. Neither was funded.

The board made no changes to the budget after the hearing.

j.wojtas@theday.com

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