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    Tuesday, April 16, 2024

    Norwich city manager proposes $151.3 million 2024-25 budget with 4.25% increase

    Norwich ― City, school and capital improvements budgets each would rise by more than 4% under City Manager John Salomone’s proposed combined $151.3 million 2024-25 budget presented to the City Council Monday.

    Property taxes needed to cover the budget are more difficult to compare after citywide revaluation of property values showed an increases of about 60% for some residential properties, while commercial values rose at much lower rates.

    If the budgets remain unchanged by the City Council in June, property owners in the paid central city fire district would have a tax rate of 37.77 mills, down from 48.64 mills last year. And taxpayers in the five volunteer fire districts would have a tax rate of 32.79 mills, down from 42.22 mills. The reductions reflect the increased property values, not a tax cut, Salomone and city Comptroller Josh Pothier said.

    The budget document lists estimated taxes to be paid on a house in the central city fire district with a market value of $233,000 – assessed value of $163,170 – at $6,163 if the budget remains unchanged.

    The first public hearing on the budget will be at 7:30 p.m. April 11 in Council Chambers at City Hall.

    The Board of Education in March approved a budget that topped $100 million for the first time, with a nearly 12% increase over this year’s $89.4 million budget. But this year’s budget is projected to end the year with a $1.9 million deficit, with skyrocketing special education costs affecting both budget years.

    Salomone proposed a school budget of $93.27 million, a $3.8 million, 4.25% increase. Salomone said the increase is much higher than his usual 2.5% school budget increase in past years, recognizing the pressures the school district faces with special education costs.

    “I know they are working diligently to lower that number,” Salomone said of the $100 million proposed school budget. “At this point, we don’t have an official number, so we’re going with this number at this point.”

    The Board of Education will discuss its budget with the City Council during a workshop at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday in the Council Chambers at City Hall.

    Salomone said the city budget has its own increased costs. The city used $1 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act grant money to offset taxes in each of the past two years. That money is mostly gone now. The budget eliminates six positions funded by ARPA grants, including three vacant police officer positions never filled, a grant manager also never filled, one Human Services Department caseworker and one recreation maintainer now vacant after a promotion.

    Seven positions funded by the ARPA grant will remain, phased in using remaining ARPA dollars and then funded either by city taxpayers or other revenue sources. Salomone proposed using the city’s opioid settlement grant to fund a Human Services clerk and historic preservation fees to cover a portion of a city clerk’s office records clerk.

    Salomone proposed one new position in the budget, an emergency dispatcher supervisor, which would help reduce the number of weekend shifts covered by only one dispatcher.

    While the ARPA budget subsidy is winding down, the city will receive a revenue boost from Norwich Public Utilities, which by charter turns over 10% of its gross revenues to the city each year. The payment will be a record high $10.3 million next year, up by $1.2 million.

    The budget also reflects the start of spending on the $385 million school construction project approved by voters in 2022. Debt service on the bonds for the first two schools is in next year’s budget, contributing to a 6.7% increase of $287,669 in the debt service payment total of $4.58 million.

    Salomone said with the property tax burden increasingly heavy on residential property owners ― residential property now makes up 63% of the tax base, a jump from 51% prior to revaluation ― the city must continue its economic development efforts to cover city expenses. His budget proposed a $50,000 increase in the city’s share of operational funding for the Norwich Community Development Corp., the city’s economic development arm, bringing the total annual payment to $250,000.

    The city also funds a large portion of Otis Library’s operating budget. Salomone recommended a $1.3 million allocation to the library, an increase of $50,000. Otis will discuss its budget with the City Council at 6 p.m. Tuesday.

    c.bessette@theday.com

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