This budget season, towns are being forced to prepare budgets like an accountant with an eyepatch. While they have a clear vision of the expenditure side of the ledger, the state is blindsiding them when it comes to revenues.
The governor's proposal to eliminate the bulk of car taxes has made it impossible for towns to predict how much money they'll have coming in from property taxes. East Lyme, for instance, stands to lose $2.41 million if the governor's budget passes as proposed.
Yet, because towns have to pass their budgets before the Legislature passes the state budget, they have little choice but to forge ahead in the dark.
East Lyme First Selectman Paul Formica said the governor has promised the town's budget will be flat-funded at the same level as last fiscal year and he's going to take him at his word.
"Nothing is definite until the Legislature passes it, which is well after our process," Formica said. "Let's just go forward and let them figure it out."
East Lyme's Proposed Budget
Accordingly, last night Formica presented the budget approved by the Board of Selectmen to the Board of Finance. After making a few cuts to Formica's proposed budget, (see images attached for details) the total budget adopted by the Board of Selectmen for Fiscal Year 2013-2014 amounts to $64,178,472.
That's a 3.15 percent increase over the approved budget for fiscal year 2012-2013 of $62.2 million.
Here's the breakdown:
- General Government: $15,634,383, which is a decrease of $518,405 over Formica's proposed budget but a $387,816 (or 2.54 percent) increase over the previous years' budget.
- Debt Service: $4,781,959, as proposed by Formica, which is a $175,929 (or 3.55 percent) decrease from the 2012-2013 budget.
- Capital: $1,170,399, which is $143,863 less than proposed by Formica but $373,677 (46.9 percent) more than the previous budget.
- Board of Education: $42,591,731, approved by the Board of Education as proposed by the Superintendent of Schools. That's a $1,377,187 (3.34 percent) increase over the budget approved for fiscal year 2012-2013.
The Biggest Increases for the Town
The biggest increase in the Town of East Lyme's budget came as a result of the anticipated opening of Cini Park and the new Amtrak Beach, which the town will own and operate starting this summer. Formica explained.
"I think we need to staff it. We're going to need to make sure we can keep it clean and make it an asset. This is a learning year. I think we need to manage this right, from the get-go," Formica said.
Formica told the Board of Finance that the town may spend more at the outset than it takes in, however, he believes, "two years from now it will be a big revenue generator, a big draw, and stimulate development for the town. I think this whole thing will explode and it will pay dividends."
The town could save $20,000 on the cost of maintaining and staffing all the beaches if it opted to repair the town's side of the boardwalk starting in July, Formica noted. To make the repairs the town will need to close down Hole-in-the-Wall Beach and, therefore, it wouldn't be paying to staff or maintain it, he explained.
Most members of the Board of Selectmen weren't in favor of doing that, because a number of events including Celebrate East Lyme and the Niantic Bay Marathon are already scheduled to be held at Hole-in-the-Wall this summer. The ball, however, is now in the Board of Finance's court.
Biggest Increases for The Board of Education
Establishing all-day kindergarten, while widely popular among parents and endorsed by the school district, accounts for the single biggest increase in the proposed school budget for fiscal year 2013-2014, boosting the bottom line by $426,475.
The cost of implementing teacher evaluations as required by the state is also a new expenditure, amounting to $133,314. The state is now rethinking the deadline for implementation of the new program, however, which will allow East Lyme to phase-in teacher evaluations. That, Formica said, may allow more flexibility when it comes to funding the program next fiscal year.
The Board of Education voted to approve the School Superintendent's budget as is, without making any cuts. The Board of Selectmen is not empowered to cut the school budget but did suggest that the Board of Finance might.
The most obvious way to reduce the school budget, a number of selectmen said, would be to postpone starting up all-day kindergarten for another school year.
The Board of Finance will hold a series of special meetings to go over each department's budget on the following dates (see attached photo for more details). All meetings are scheduled for East Lyme Town Hall at 6:30 p.m. unless otherwise noted:
- Monday, March 18 (Police Dept., Building Dept., long range capital plan, among others)
- Thursday March 21 (Public Works, Park & Rec., Library, among others)
- Monday, March 25 (Fire Dept., Emergency Management, Services to the community, among others)
- Thursday, March 28 (Board of Education budget review, 7 p.m.)
- Monday, April 1 (Smith Harris House, Gen. Govt. and Benefits, Contingency, among others)
- Wednesday, April 10 (Regular meeting the Board of Finance deliberates at 7 p.m.)
- Monday, April 15 (Scheduled only if continued deliberations are needed)
- Monday, April 22 (Public Hearing on the budget at 7 p.m.)
- Monday, May 13, (Town Meeting on the budget, time tba)