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    Friday, September 22, 2023

    Montville to see 1-mill tax increase as council approves budget

    Montville ― The Town Council on Tuesday approved an amended 2023-24 town budget of $69.6 million, 7.1% more than the current budget.

    By a 4-3 vote the council also set a tax rate of 27.77 mils, an increase of 1.06 mils.

    Democratic councilors Lenny Bunnell Sr. and Tim May were not happy with the tax increase, and were joined by fellow Democrat Billy Caron in voting against the budget. All four Republicans on the council voted in favor of the spending plan.

    “We’re going backwards as far as what were trying to do for the town,” Bunnell said after the meeting.

    To determine their new tax bills, property owners can take their new assessment, divide it by 1,000 and multiply that number by 27.77. They can then compare that to their current tax bill.

    The amended budget saw a number of decreases from Mayor Ron McDaniel’s $71. 2 million proposed budget which was 10% more than the current budget. The increase was fueled by the addition of seven new staff positions and the corresponding impacts on health insurance, mostly due to the town’s transition to an independent police department.

    The council, though split on the matter, agreed with the mayor’s proposal to use $2.9 million of the town’s undesignated fund balance to help offset the tax impact of the budget on residents.

    Bunnell and May each voiced their concern about using funds from the undesignated fund balance and the impact it will have on future budgets.

    “I’m just worried about future years,” May said to the council. “Were still going to have the same bills.”

    Council Chairman Tom McNally said it was not an easy budget, as the town like many others, is facing inflation and other increases out of its control. He said it was impressive to decrease the budget as much as the council did.

    “Nobody knows whats going to happen next year,” he said.

    Bunnell and May were also concerned about approving the budget before the town knows what funding it will receive from the state. McNally reminded the council that the town approved its budget before the state in each of the previous three years and based its state revenue on estimates.

    The council also approved the use of $500,000 in American Rescue Plan Act funds, money it set aside last year, to cut worker’s compensation and solid waste tipping fees by $250,000 each.

    The largest single cut, $538,056, was made to the Board of Education’s budget, which now sits at $43.2 million. The council did agree to give the school board no more than $200,000 from money it will collect from cannabis taxes.

    Under state law, taxes collected from towns from cannabis sales can be used for five purposes, including funding education programs.

    McNally said Tuesday the $200,000 is based on a projection of what the town will receive in cannabis sales taxes over a year’s time. He said the town has received an average of about $20,000 per month in the first three months.

    The Board of Education will discuss how it will move forward without receiving its full $43.8 million request at its next meeting. The board was looking to use $525,500, at the recommendation of Superintendent Laurie Pallin, to bolster its special education staff, hire an athletic trainer, add two part-time custodians, add a middle school physical education/health teacher and add a full-time instructional leadership coach.

    The council did approve to increase special education tuition by $25,000.

    Mayor’s salary increased

    A point of controversy arose at the end of the council’s line-by-line audit of the budget when Caron made a motion to increase the mayor’s current salary of $80,000 by $25,000 to better aligned it with other towns in the region. The motion passed in a split vote, with Councilor Colleen Rix, a Republican, crossing party lines to vote in favor of the increase with Democrats.

    Councilor Al Mandler, a member of the finance board, called the motion “a slap in the face,” after the board combed through the budget line-by-line since the mayor proposed the budget in April. Councilor Robert Yuchniuk said it was an item that should not be “thrown in” at the end of special meeting.

    Bunnell recalled that a raise in the mayor’s salary had been approved by the town’s Town Administration/Rules and Procedures Standing Committee, but had never made its way to the council. It had been brought up at previous council meetings, but always tabled to another time.

    “It’s time,” Caron said of the salary increase.

    Capital projects cut

    The council cut the mayor’s proposed capital improvement budget nearly in half from $1.1 million to $624,000. The cuts included $104,000 for police car replacements, $180,000 for painting and sealing the bricks at Town Hall, $300,000 for a basketball court reconstruction at Camp Oakdale and $109,000 for a new boiler at the high school.

    One of the requested police cars remains in the budget while one was funded with ARPA money earlier this week.

    The town library received an additional $5,000 from the mayor’s proposed $75,000. The move comes after the council allocated $20,000 in ARPA funds to the library earlier this week.

    Members of the library addressed the council at a public hearing at the end of April to explain that its $100,000 budget request would prevent it from continuing to use its endowment to cover operating costs. They warned the council if they continued to do so, the library, which provides a number of services to all ages, would not be open much longer.


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