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Ledyard voters approve fiscal year 2022-23 budget

Ledyard — Residents approved a $63,510,221 budget package for the 2022-23 fiscal year in a referendum Tuesday, by a vote of 202-44.

The numbers do not reflect eight absentee votes that were cast. Only 2.5% of the town's eligible voters turned out.

"There was nothing controversial in the budget, and the spending increase was very modest," according to Town Council Chairman Kevin Dombrowski. Spending goes up by 5.33% over current levels, with taxes expected to increase by 0.1 mill. The council will set a final tax rate in June.

Mayor Fred Allyn III said labor contracts, and increased costs due to inflation are the major reasons for the spending hikes. He said the budget accounts for a 25% increase in fuel costs — diesel for the town trucks and regular fuel for the police cruisers.

"Inflation was one of the things we had to deal with in putting together the budget," Dombrowski added. "We're trying to account for what inflation will do to the budget, so it isn't as much of an impact to residents, who are already facing a tough time."

Education spending is 2.6% higher than the current budget. It includes funding for a new kindergarten "boot camp", which will help the young students adjust to the classroom.

The school budget also calls for some new positions: a full-time library media specialist for the elementary schools, a full-time science teacher, full-time math interventionist and full-time guidance counselor at the middle school level, and a full-time health/physical education instructor at the high school. A part-time foreign language teacher position at the high school will be upgraded to a full-time position.

School officials said the retirement of four teachers, coupled with the hiring of new instructors at lower salary grades as replacements, is accounting for some savings.

The approved town budget includes more than $6.2 million in capital improvement funding — $1.1 million will come from property tax revenues, the remainder from state and federal sources, including money received through the Federal American Rescue Plan. Ledyard received $4.3 million in ARP money, with most of that now allocated with the passage of the budget.

"We didn't have to include the ARP funding in the budget," Dombrowski said, noting federal guidelines don't require taxpayer approval. He said initiatives that weren't time-sensitive were presented within the budget process to be fully transparent with the voters.

Some projects and programs already have been completed, including a new sewer pump system at the town's treatment plant. "Some of the ARP funding was fast-tracked through the Town Council, as projects costing more than $15,000 have to go out to bid," Allyn said. "That takes some time, plus contractors are very busy, and it takes more time to get onto their waiting list for projects."

ARP funding also has been allocated for COVID relief social service programs administered by the Thames Valley Council for Community Action, and the Ledge Light Health District. Funds also will be used to provide more money for the town's Housing Rehabilitation Grant Program, youth mental health clinicians, scholarships for summer recreation programs and a study of the Gales Ferry corridor along Route 12 to see what can be done to upgrade that area.

Two of the biggest projects to be funded through the capital improvement funding are the extension of the town's sewer line from the Bill Library to the high school, and significant improvements to the Town Green. The sewer line project is in the design and engineering phase, and planning and design work for a multi-modal trail, following the same path as the sewer line extension, is underway. Upgrades at the green include: new posts, wiring and a concrete floor at the Pole Barn, a new parklet next to the parking area, and new lighting. Some work at the green already has been completed.

Numerous other capital improvement projects also have been completed or are underway. New roofs have been placed atop Town Hall, its annex and the Bill Library. Those funds were approved a few months ago by the Town Council. Funding for new roofs was approved by voters in February for the Juliet W. Long School, Gales Ferry Elementary School and the School Office Building. The money also provides for upgraded heating, ventilation and electrical systems at Juliet Long, and improved building management systems at the Gales Ferry School. Solar panels are to be installed at the two schools, as well.

"We've got some good things moving," Mayor Allyn said. "Now we're going to have a lot more going."

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