First Selectman Patricia Llodra won’t make any predictions, but she is happy that turnout in today’s budget referendum appears to be running well ahead of the previous ones this year.
The hourly count kept by the registrars of voters has been 300 to 400 higher than earlier referendums this year and there are also many more absentee ballots.
But this, the fifth attempt to pass a 2012-13 town budget, is also the first budget referendum the town has ever held in the middle of July, when many voters go on vacations.
"This is unprecedented in Newtown, so I will not make any predictions," Llodra said.
Llodra and other town officials have their fingers crossed that the budget will pass, because if not it might begin to cost the town money.
The town is now in the second week of the fiscal year without an approved budget. It has used its savings account to pay its bills.
Llodra said if this referendum doesn’t pass, the town’s options would be to either borrow money with short-term, 60-day notes, which is not free, or send out tax bills using last year’s tax rate, which has its own set of problems.
Legislative Council Chairman Jeffrey Capici said if the budget doesn’t pass, the Council would probably take it up at its next meeting scheduled for Wednesday, July 18.
But it takes almost three weeks to schedule a new referendum election, which would push budget approval into August.
Capici said the Council has tried to cut the mill rate for each referendum vote this year with a minimum impact on expenditures, which were already very tight from the start. But if this budget referendum doesn’t pass, the Council would have no alternative than to cut expenditures, he said.
Board of Education Chairman Debbie Leidlein said if the Legislative Council cuts the school budget, her board would have to meet to discuss what to do.
She and Capici said there are competing constituencies — taxpayers who want to minimize any tax increase and school budget supporters who oppose cutting the education budget — who have both voted against the town budget for different reasons.
They said in order for the budget to pass, enough additional voters must go to the polls to compensate for those two groups.
Llodra said Finance Director Bob Tait and Tax Collector Carol Mahoney have listed three reasons why the town must avoid if possible sending out tax bills without an approved budget — for example, using last year’s mill rate.
She said inaccurate tax bills would create a lot of confusion and probably would result in the loss of thousands of dollars in town revenue.
Many property owners with mortgages pay their taxes through escrow accounts provided by their banks. If the town sends out a supplemental tax bill to correct an initial inaccurate tax bill, in the past that has led to confusion as the banks attempt to recalculate the escrow payments. This ends up with inadvertent shortfalls that result in liens against taxpayers through no fault of their own, and Llodra said it also costs thousands of dollars extra for printing and mailing costs.
Another reason is the town has about 280 elderly and disabled taxpayers who qualify for the state circuit breaker tax credit program. The state will not calculate the tax credit based on an inaccurate tax bill, so those tax bills can’t go out until a new budget is approved.
The third reason is that some of the supplemental tax bills might be very small. It is the town’s policy not to send tax bills for less than three dollars, because it costs more than that for mailing and processing them. Therefore, the town might end up failing to bill hundreds or thousands of taxpayers for supplemental tax bills, which could add up to thousands of dollars that the town won’t collect but cannot afford to do without.