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    Sunday, July 21, 2024

    Waterford RTM approves $102 million budget

    Waterford ― The Representative Town Meeting approved a $102 million combined town and school budget for 2023-24 at its fourth and final budget hearing Wednesday night.

    Representatives reduced the budget by cutting an additional $536,472 in school spending from the Board of Finance’s approved budget to bring the total to $102,073,198. The approved budget is a nearly $2.7 million, or about 3%, more than the current budget.

    The new tax rate will be calculated by the Board of Finance at its May 17 meeting.

    The Board of Education budget was the only portion of the budget to see additional changes since the Board of Finance’s review.

    The money the RTM cut from the school budget was set to be used to buy Chromebooks, as well as making HVAC and LED lighting upgrades. Representatives determined that those funds could be requested and appropriated through other means, such as the general fund balance.

    The Board of Finance will determine where the money will come from if and when the Board of Education makes the request.

    The Board of Finance previously reduced the education budget by $500,000, which had been allotted for textbooks, supplemental materials and teacher training for a new reading program in the district.

    Board of Finance Chairman Glenn Patterson and First Selectman Rob Brule previously said the $500,000 was removed to prevent taxing residents on funds that may not yet be needed due to a possible delay or waiver for implementing the reading program. They said the Board of Education could request the funding if it becomes necessary.

    The school budget was finalized at $54.1 million, about a 4% increase.

    The new reading program comes after the state passed the Right to Read Act in 2021, asking school districts to choose from seven pre-approved curricula to implement. More than half the districts in the state, including Waterford, have filed waivers with the state to get out of the mandate.

    The General Assembly is considering a bill that would delay until July 1, 2025 the start date for implementing an approved reading model for school boards that haven’t been granted a waiver.

    The approved budget also includes a 13.7% increase for emergency, fire and police services. The increase will allow the town to hire three more firefighters, three more police officers and an additional full-time dispatcher.

    Police Chief Marc Balestracci told the RTM he already submitted a request to the Board of Police Commissioners for the additional officers, which would cost an additional $234,000 before benefits. The additional officers would be used to enhance school and traffic policing.

    Director of Fire Services Michael Howley said he increased his budget for full-time firefighters and is pursuing federal grants. He said the town, like others, is facing a need of both career and volunteer firefighters.

    Brule previously said 10 other departments could not increase their budgets in order for the town to absorb the emergency services increase.

    The other notable increase was 12.6% for the assessors office, which added a staff position, while health insurance coverage saw an increase of nearly 8%.

    k.arnold@theday.com

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