Last year the Town was unable to have its standard in-person public hearing and subsequent town meeting to vote on the budget. This was due to the pandemic and Governor’s executive action requiring a virtual public hearing and Board of Finance (BOF) setting of the budget under authorization of the Board of Selectmen. We are planning for a return to some normalcy with the upcoming budget, which will be delayed to try to allow for a hybrid in-person and virtual process. The BOF and Selectmen are targeting a virtual public hearing for May 12, followed by a hybrid town meeting on May 26.
The budget proposal outlined below may change as a result of further action taken by the BOF leading up to and following the public hearing. There is much uncertainty with this year’s budget from an outside revenue standpoint. State aid, as well as Federal pandemic related funding that will flow through to the Town, is in flux. What we do know is that there is likely to be an increase associated with outside funding sources to both the Town and Board of Education side of our operations. The BOF recognizes the strain that the pandemic has placed on our residents and businesses and is targeting no increase to the mill rate, holding it at 28.64. This was accomplished by the cooperation of the Board of Education, Selectmen and Town departments for which I would like to extend my gratitude.
As of mid-April, the BOF is planning to present at the public hearing an operating budget of approximately $62 million, representing a 5.6% increase from last year. It should be noted that included in this budget is a transfer of $2M from undesignated fund balance to the Town’s Capital Non-Recurring Reserve fund for future capital projects. This enables the Town to earn an improved financial return on capital. Absent that transfer, the budget would represent an increase of 2.23% over the prior year. The proposed budget is made up of BOE expenditures of $35,901,023 and BOS expenditures of $17,154,370, increases of $0 and $809,620, respectively. While the BOE overall expenses will rise year over year, they were able to accommodate a $0 increase to the Town due to COVID relief funding that goes directly to the schools. Debt service represents $2.3M, which is a significant drop due to the high school construction bond being paid off. The Board increased capital spending in the proposed budget to over $4.4M which includes $1.4M for fire and police apparatus and safety equipment including a fire tanker replacement, $400K for the replacement of the tennis and basketball courts at the middle school and $580K in various school improvements. Capital spending has been cut back in prior years due to uncertainty in state aid and the proposed budget brings the combination of capital and debt service to approximately 11% of the total budget, which is consistent with the Board’s annual target. With the combined increase in outside revenues and grand list growth, the Town is able to accommodate proposed expenses without an increase to the mill rate. If you want to learn more about the proposed budget, please plan to attend the virtual public hearing on May 12 and come out and vote on May 26.