(Editors’ note: This article was updated for clarity on June 27 at 11:45 a.m.)
The Town Meeting on the fiscal year 2017-18 budget was held on May 10th at Suffield High School with 90 people present. Former Selectman Brian Fitzgerald served as moderator and three motions were introduced. One was the basic motion to vote to approve the $39,576,876 budget (or not), then to authorize the Town to distribute budget information if there was a petition to send the budget to referendum, and a new third motion to allow the Board of Finance to invalidate the budget if state revenues vary more than $200,000 plus or minus from the budget originally submitted by Governor Malloy.
That last motion was generated at the Board of Finance meeting two days earlier and indicates how worried they were about what may happen to Suffield as a result of state budget financial difficulties.
First Selectwoman Melissa Mack spoke about her efforts and that of the Board of Selectmen to minimize increases of Town Government operations (resulting in a 0.98% increase or $148,023), and Superintendent Berasi and the Board of Education came in with a similar (1.1% or $381,601) increase. This was after the Board of Finance cut $75k from Town Government and $300k from education.
The proposed budget included $1.9m to cover teacher pension obligations that Governor Malloy has proposed the Town cover. To include that, the Board of Finance cut back more than $1m of proposed capital projects.
Mack then invited Board of Finance Chairman Justin Donnelly to talk about news received from the state earlier in the day. He said the town had just been told that the Governor announced an additional decrease in state aid of more than $920k – and that is money promised for the current year’s budget (2016-17)!
After Superintendent Berasi described the key goals in the education budget for 17-18 and showed that salaries and benefits were about 80% of the total budget. She also described the projected slow decrease in enrollment along with a drop in the number of school employees.
Overall, the 2017-18 proposed town budget was $1.8m less than the 2016-17 budget, or a 3.1% decrease, matching the projected decline in revenue. This results in a total tax increase of 2.4%.
After the presentations, the audience was asked if they had any questions or comments. A few questions were asked, one about special education, one about the large fund balance or rainy day fund the Town was holding.
Moderator Fitzgerald then called for a voice vote on all three resolutions as one item, and it passed by a large margin, with just a handful of people voicing opposition.
The week following the budget vote, as the state revenue projections continued to be very weak, the Governor released yet another proposal to reduce expenses in order to reach a state budget agreement. In this new plan, Suffield would now lose an additional $4.7 million in state grants. Many people say that the state will not pass a budget until this Fall, leaving real uncertainty for all towns in the state. It’s hard to know how the cutbacks will end up, as the Governor makes budget proposals but it is the state legislature that has the final decision making authority.
It looks likely that the Board of Finance will have to make big budget cuts in education and Town Government whenever the state budget is passed, and send a revised budget back to Town Meeting for voter approval.