Finance panel foresees 2-3 percent budget hike
Though they really would like to see a "flat" budget next year, with no increases from the current fiscal year, Board of Finance members expect a 2 to 3 percent net increase in the 2015-16 budget.
At the request of Budget Director Jennifer Charneski, who asked board members this week for guidance about what rate of increase they would find acceptable, board members started setting their goals for the coming budget process, which starts in less than three months. Charneski said she would bring their expectations to each town department and the Board of Education so they can prepare their budget requests accordingly.
Board of Finance members and First Selectman Robert Mallozzi noted that the current fiscal year should not be used as a base to request increases next year because of "extraordinary events," such as last year's property revaluation, which brought home values down and consequently forced a bigger tax increase.
The net increase, minus non-tax revenues, for the 2015 fiscal year was 4.7 percent, which brought the total budget to $138.3 million. In 2014 it was 3.6 percent and in 2013 it was 3.2 percent, according to Charneski. From 2010 to 2015 the net increase was 17.45 percent, she said.
Charneski reminded the board that a tax increase may be unavoidable.
"As our expenditures grow, we don't have the same rate of growth in our non-tax revenues," she said. "And we at the moment don't have a lot of ideas on the table on increasing those non-tax revenues."
So the only place that "we really have to go to make that up" is the tax levy, Charneski added.
As a preliminary projection, the budget director is foreseeing a 1.96 percent increase coming from town departments, not including the Board of Education, which accounts for more than half of the town expenditures. "That's where we're starting," she said.
Several board members said they expect to begin discussions with each department by asking how it spent the allocated funds in the previous fiscal year.
"To me, the easiest place to start is look at what departments were budgeted last year and look what they actually spent," Mallozzi said. "I don't think we can start any different this year."
Charneski noted that historically, the town has had "sizable surpluses on the expenditures side."
Board member Colleen Baldwin said the board should then ask the departments how the money actually used. "Talk about your actuals and tell us where you need to be," she said as an example. "Give me a compelling case for an increase."
The town departments and Board of Education are expected to present their budget requests in January.
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