Cheshire Town Manager Michael Milone isn't happy about the increase taxpayers could see if the 2013-14 proposed budget passes as presented, but it's a reality of the situation facing the town as the state continues to redirect and cut aid to local communities.
Milone on Monday introduced his budget proposal for the 2013-14 fiscal year, requesting a $3.06 million increase that would push the town's annual budget to $101.78 million. The increase would mean a 1.07 mill increase in the community, the largest since 2003.
“I’ve never had to start off with a budget process as difficult and challenging as this was,” Milone said. “(With cuts to funding), we didn’t want to decimate services but we didn’t want to raise taxes too significantly either.”
Under the proposed budget, first made available to the public on Monday, Milone has requested a 3.1 percent increase over current spending. The proposal includes a plan that would increase education spending by $2.05 million to $64.51 million and general government spending to $27.98 million, a $1.3 million increase.
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Debt spending would actually see a slight reduction under the plan, dropping by $320,000 to $8.33 million and both the capital non recurring account ($1.1 million) and contingency account ($125,000) remained the same.
During a press conference Monday, Milone and Cheshire Finance Director James J. Jaskot said the biggest challenge came in trying to determine what the town would actually receive from the state for funding during the 2013-14 fiscal year and balancing existing services with the taxpayers ability to fund the annual budget, especially in a tough economy.
“Since the governor’s budget proposal is in a state of turmoil and uncertainty and fundamentally alters the state/local partnerships, we were confronted with a myriad of challenges never previously experienced,” Milone said.
The largest driving factors of the budget include general government increases of $374,00 for pension, $253,000 for personnel services, $170,000 in contractual services and $76,000 for consultant services.
If passed as presented, it would mean an increase of 1.07 mills, or an average of $256 per year, or 3.82 percent, for the average taxpayer when including both real estate and motor vehicle property, according to Milone.
This would represent the largest increase in taxes in the past decade. Prior to the current budget process, the last time the town implemented an increase larger than one mill was in the 2003-04 fiscal year when a 1.45 mill increase was approved. The second highest was in 2005-06 with a 0.9 mill increase.
The biggest concern facing the town is consistent changes and reductions to local aid as presented in Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s budget proposal. Under the proposal, the town would see an immediate reduction of $2.19 million as a result of the state’s payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) program, according to state documents.
In addition, Cheshire is facing cuts in areas that include an additional $2 million in Mashantucket Pequot & Mohegan Grant funding and manufacturing grants. In return, the community receives additional funding through the state’s local capital improvement program and educational cost sharing. While it helps balance some of the cost, the two programs require specific use for the money and would come as “reimbursement” rather than use on general items in the budget.
“It makes it difficult to find reassurance we will get it all back,” Milone said.
Milone said much work remains before the town passes a final budget document prior to the start of the next fiscal year, but believes that the proposal presented Monday provides a strong starting point while “maintaining and even enhancing service.”
“I am confident that we will have a final adopted budget which will best meet our financial challenges and will provide the appropriate level of services and programs at the lowest possible cost,” he said.
Cheshire Patch will provide the full digital copy of the budget when it becomes available to the public. Officials said the digital version is expected later this week.
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