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Preston voters approve both school and town budgets for 2021-22

Preston — Voters bucked past trends Wednesday and approved both the 2021-22 school and town government budgets in the first referendum try.

Voters approved the $12.48 million school budget 192 to 102. And voters approved the $4.02 million town government budget 211 to 83. The town had needed multiple attempts to pass budgets in recent years, although no referendum was held last year due to COVID-19 restrictions.

The budgets are expected to bring a tax decrease next fiscal year. The Board of Finance voted in May to use $450,000 from the town’s healthy undesignated fund balance to bring the proposed tax rate to 26.67 mills, down by 0.27 mill, or 1%, from this year’s tax rate of 26.94 mills. The Board of Finance held its monthly meeting at the Preston Plains Middle School on Wednesday and paused briefly to hear what one member called “good news” of the referendum results.

The board later Wednesday was expected to set the official tax rate for the 2021-22 fiscal year.

The voter turnout of 291 in-person voters and three absentee voters — about 9% of the 3,000 registered voters — was well below normal budget referendum turnouts and about half what town election officials had expected, Democratic Registrar Andrew Stockton said.

Both budgets were forwarded to the referendum after no changes were made at the June 3 town meeting.

The budget approval, however, left unresolved a request by Fire Chief Tom Casey to boost paid fire services in town to reduce the number of shifts left uncovered or with minimal staffing. Casey had requested to hire a second full-time firefighter, projected to cost $72,250, or to add $50,000 to the budget to hire more per diem firefighters to cover 330 shifts per year. The town now has the full-time chief, a full-time fire captain and hires per diem firefighters to cover three shifts per day, seven days a week.

First Selectwoman Sandra Allyn-Gauthier said at the town meeting that she supported increasing the number of paid firefighters while also exploring ways to fund increased paid fire services, as well as increasing interest in volunteer fire services.

c.bessette@theday.com

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