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Town, School Officials Review Potential Budget Hurdles

Cuts in state grants could play havoc with budget plans, and the expected increase in the Grand List won't be enough to fill the shortfall.

 

More than two dozen Newtown officials met Wednesday for a preliminary discussion on the 2013-14 municipal budget, fulfilling a pledge made during last spring’s difficult budget deliberations to increase transparency and communication regarding the Board of Education budget.

The meeting brought together the Legislative Council, the Board of Finance, Board of Selectmen and the Board of Education to review potential challenges facing the next budget process.

Board of Education Chairman Debbie Leidlein and First Selectman Patricia Llodra went through the main points of the school budget and town budget, pointing out key factors that might cause future difficulties.

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However, for both it appeared the biggest hurdle looming on the horizon could be the possibility of state cuts to grants the town is counting on, particularly the town’s $4,338,374 Education Cost Sharing, which constitutes nearly 60 percent of its intergovernmental revenue.

The state budget is already facing a deficit for the current fiscal year, and Councilman George Ferguson reported that the state’s labor agreements traded no-layoff guarantees for contract concessions. That means the only way the state could achieve a balanced budget is through tax increases and/or spending cuts on grants.

Llodra said the only way to compensate for state grant cuts would be through a substantial increase in the Grand List. But she expects only a modest increase, about the same as the .66 percent increase seen for the 2011 Grand List.

The 2011 Grand List was approximately $3.95 billion. A full 1 percent increase would yield about $1 million in additional revenue.

Leidlein and Board of Education Business Director Ron Bienkowski said for the school budget, the item providing the most uncertainty continues to be special education out-of-district placement costs.

Bienkowski’s slide presentation indicated those costs have risen from $5.5 million to over $7 million in the last five years, outpacing any other cost factor for the school budget.

The state also keeps reducing funding for its excess cost grant, according to Bienkowski, which is supposed to reimburse school districts for part of the cost of educating the most costly special education students.

And in 2013-14, the district will get a new unfunded state mandate, the cost of a new teacher evaluation procedure projected at $78,000.

After the end of the joint discussion, several parents spoke during a public participation session on the possibility of another school closing looming for next year.

Michelle Ku of Platt’s Hill Road said social network channels are full of talk about a school closing, and she called on officials to answer that question, and whether it would benefit taxpayers or school children, before the town votes on the budget.

Legislative Council Chairman Jeffrey Capeci said he was sure that question would be answered before the budget came up for a vote.

Paul Alexander October 18, 2012 at 12:28 PM
"Cuts in state grants could play havoc with (town's) budget plans" Huh? Cuts in state grants? HOW IS THAT POSSIBLE after the "orgy" of RETROACTIVE taxes Governor Malloy jammed down taxpayers throats??? “Dan Malloy of Connecticut signed into law a huge $1.8 billion tax increase, which increased the top individual income tax rate from 6.5 to 6.7 percent, the top corporate tax rate from 8.25 to 9.0 percent, and the sales tax rate from 6.0 to 6.35 percent. The governor also increased hotel taxes, luxury goods taxes, online sales taxes, alcohol taxes, and the state death tax. After this tax hike orgy, Malloy had the gumption to claim that some small tax credits he approved were a “far reaching” and “rigorous initiative to grow jobs.” So the STATE takes MORE from Newtown tax payers but GIVES back less forcing the town to jack up taxes or do with less ON TOP of the tax pillaging the state has already done and WILL DO AGAIN before Malloy's first term is over. So the Newtown taxpayer gets double whacked, by the State and by the Town, all as national net worth and take home pay is falling. Where does the money go? Do you people even care??? How is it that you tolerate these people in Hartford robbing you blind and then mismanaging the tax revenue you provide at the expense of your family and business???? Are you all brain dead??? The town leadership needs to write a very strongly worded "WTF" letter to Hartford.
Paul Alexander October 18, 2012 at 12:39 PM
If the State's First Selectman and Mayors are not meeting as a group to discuss mutually concerning issues then they need to start doing so ASAP. Bring some heat and political discomfort to Malloy or this is only going to get worse.
Veritas vos liberabit October 18, 2012 at 12:45 PM
Skipper, you can't have it both ways. Malloy is paying off the debt that was run up by the previous GOP folks.
Paul Alexander October 18, 2012 at 12:57 PM
Sully, The CT General Assembly, WHERE THE STATE BUDGET IS DETERMINED, has been 1/3 Republican and 2/3 Democrat since FOREVER. And where is Malloy paying off debt? Do you just make S^*t up to fit your ideology and imaginary world???
Po Murray October 18, 2012 at 01:06 PM
Just wondering if these local elected officials received a memo from the governor's office that the ECS grant will be reduced next year OR are they using speculation as a scare tactic to force the BOE to drive down the education budget request. "Malloy said funding from the state has not kept pace with general inflation, let alone the rate of education inflation. He called the concessions made by teachers to date "noble." “I believe a contract is a contract is a contract,” Malloy said, adding that it is unfair that “public employees are singled out for these givebacks.” Malloy said he would “hold school systems harmless” for the 14.5 percent cut in education cost sharing grants imposed by Gov. M. Jodi Rell. According to Malloy, the cuts were hidden through the use of federal funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. He said he would return ECS grants at least to their original level when the stimulus funds expire." http://ballotpedia.org/wiki/index.php/Dan_Malloy
Paul Alexander October 18, 2012 at 01:28 PM
2013 is an Odd Year state budget year. The town should not bring a town budget to referendum until the state General Assembly has finalized the State's budget and its inevitable tax increase. And if the town DOES put a budget to referendum before the state’s budget is finalized, then the taxpayers should vote the town’s budget down until they know what their STATE tax liability will be.
Paul Alexander October 18, 2012 at 01:38 PM
A recall initiative to get Malloy out of office is not unreasonable.
Bruce Walczak TheNewtownRooster.com October 18, 2012 at 02:08 PM
Watch out for the sneaky budget moves coming. Are there any savings due to reduced interest and refinancing our bonds? Will the taxpayer get credit for these savings or will they hide increases in town expenditures? Will off balance sheet funding get pushed through with no taxpayer votes such as $5 million for sewers so commercial developers can make more money? Will we all of a sudden have money to buy out half of the Newtown Youth Academy which we already subsidized by over $5 million dollars? What benefit will the taxpayer get from the entire surplus in the town budget this year? Will the increase in the grand list be spent or used to reduce the budget? Will the BOE finally be able to spend less per pupil than any other town in CT? Lots of talk about reduced enrollment, does that mean the town budget decrease also due to reduce population? Keep your eyes open, this will be the least transparent budget ever, with all kinds of sneaky moves so you will not understand where the surpluses are hidden.
Len Destin October 18, 2012 at 02:17 PM
There will come a day when all of the Obama and democratic zelots will wake up and find that their desire to get a "level playing field" will be more real dollars out of their wallets via increased taxes across the board. More people employed = more tax revenue, fullstop; every other proposal is zero sum.
Paul Alexander October 18, 2012 at 02:24 PM
Excellent comment Leonard and spot on. I am pleased to see more thinking people like you who “get it”. The issue though is that government doesn't care if it is a zero sum or rising employment scenario, cuz government grows under both, and Big Government growing bigger is Big Government's ONLY concern.
Paul Alexander October 18, 2012 at 02:29 PM
Actually, it is LESS than zero sum as Big Government first TAKES dollars and then skims some to "feed the beast" before Big Government "gives" any of those dollars back. It's actually Negative Sum.
Len Destin October 18, 2012 at 02:35 PM
Right - diminishing marginal utiltiy. You can be sure the tax payers of Newtown will see no benefit.
Jennifer October 18, 2012 at 07:34 PM
Bruce where can I find this info on what the town spent on NYA. It's sounds crazy to spend 5 millionon NYA and then close a school to save one million a year.
Tom Bittman October 19, 2012 at 01:04 AM
It looks like they completely ignored discussing the rationale behind growing the fund balance. Probably because there is no rationale, except to "catch up" to other communities. Bottom line, we are going to pay higher taxes because our political leaders won't even discuss whether increasing the fund balance makes sense.
DAY October 19, 2012 at 02:17 AM
McMurphy - you sound like the president: always blaming someone else for the looming crisis, instead of dealing with it. You and your celebration of the stock market rally should really slither away now. You offer no vision, no solutions.
DAY October 19, 2012 at 02:20 AM
Yes, Po. They knew it was a possibility, as it always is when it comes to sharing agreements and transfers from federal to state to local. They just didn't care. They plowed ahead, knowing that once they put something in place it would be difficult to take it back.
DAY October 19, 2012 at 02:22 AM
If only - Malloy's buddy Finch can keep Bridgeport's polls open 24 hours past traditional closing time so that "voters" can ensure that he remains in office.
DAY October 19, 2012 at 02:23 AM
Alas... I really don't think they care, or will even realize it was of their own doing.
Bruce Walczak TheNewtownRooster.com October 19, 2012 at 03:27 PM
You are correct, all the increase this year and next year to the fund balance with little payback to the taxpayers increases the taxes we pay. The elected officals priorities are wrong, lets focus on an excellent educational progam and increase our property values, not strive to "Make it cheaper in Newtown".
Bruce Walczak TheNewtownRooster.com October 19, 2012 at 03:32 PM
Jennifer we spent $3.5 million plus interest for the NYA parking lot. In addition we reduced the lease charge to almost nothing to get them to take the old building down, and then we committed to buying 1400 hrs of court time for 40 years. Now it appears that Pat Llodra wants to buy 1/2 of the Acadamy.. For what reason who knows the facility is already up there, why would we need to own half of it? In addition we have already paid for half the place anyway.
Jennifer October 19, 2012 at 04:12 PM
Thank you Bruce - do you know where concerned citizens can go to research wasted money on the town side. It is absolutely offensive that the town officials want to close an elementary school ASAP without any thought. Closing a school hurts children for the sake saving 1 million a year when we waste millions on less important projects. A school is a need, NYA, Ambulance building, Animal Shelter are all wants.
Jennifer October 19, 2012 at 04:18 PM
3.5 million plus interest will allow a school to stay and remain open for at least four years. What is wrong with these people. Who would want to move to Newtown. Teachers morale has to be so low, knowing you might loose your job in order to fund a parking lot or other stupid projects.
Obi-wan October 19, 2012 at 04:23 PM
Jennifer, What you should do is attend meetings, go talk to Mrs. Llodra, and read over the minutes, rather than listen to the useless conspiracy theories and shell game drivel by those who do not attend meeting or go sit with the first selectwomen but feel compelled to spread rumor and stir the pot.
Jennifer October 19, 2012 at 06:51 PM
I will do that Obi-wan. Thank you.
Bruce Walczak TheNewtownRooster.com October 19, 2012 at 07:26 PM
Obi-wan doing the research is good, and having an open eye is best. Going to the people who put out all the PR such as Ms Llodra, or The Bee will get you one side, but not all the info needed to make an informed decision.

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