The Middletown Press (Middletown, CT)

New mill rate tempered by grants

- By Jeff Mill

PORTLAND — The Board of Selectmen has voted to reallocate nearly $480,000 in state grants to reduce the tax rate increase.

The decision reduces the projected tax rate increase from 1.42 mills down to an increas of 0.83 mills, according to Selectman James A. Tripp. The action came as board voted 6-0 last week to set the mill rate at 33.81 mills, an increase of 0.83 mills.

Selectman Benjamin R. Srb was absent from the meeting.

The money, $479,216, is made up mainly of Education Cost Sharing funds allocated to the town by the General Assembly in the final hours of the 2018 session. A reluctant Gov. Dannel P. Malloy signed the legislatio­n last week.

When the selectmen sat down together last week, First Selectman Susan S. Bransfield presented them with three options: Set the money aside in fund balance (a form of surplus), allocate half the amount to reduce the tax rate and leave the remainder in the fund balance, or allocate the full amount to reducing the tax rate.

If the board had chosen either of the options involving placing the money in the fund balance, the funds could have been reallocate­d for various projects following the approval of residents, Bransfield said in a telephone interview Monday afternoon.

When she laid out the options, Selectman James A. Tripp said he thought a certain amount of “this windfall” should “be given back to the taxpayers.” Such a decision would be “an act of good faith with the taxpayers and what they voted for” in the May 14 budget referendum, Tripp suggested.

The one thing the selectmen could not do would have been to allocate it to specific line items in the budget in excess of what residents had voted for in the referendum, Bransfield cautioned.

At the suggestion of Superinten­dent of Schools Philip B. O’Reilly, the Board of Education reduced the school budget so there was no increase. Even so, “We can’t spend any more money than what was approved” in the referendum, Bransfield said.

Deputy First Selectman Louis J. Pear suggested allocating half the money to reduce the tax rate and hold back the other half in case there is an unanticipa­ted spike in the need of funding for special education.

Under state law, a town is responsibl­e for funding the cost of educating any special-needs child who moves into the school district. Those costs can sometimes rise to or even above $100,000 a year.

Bransfield said the town still has other money in the fund balance that could be reallocate­d if needed . She praised Chairwoman MaryAnne Rode and the school board members who, she said, “are very careful about their spending.”

Bransfield said Rode and O’Reilly make it a point to communicat­e with her and together work for the betterment of the town.

In turn, Bransfield said, education remains the town’s No. 1 priority.

 ?? File photo ?? Portland
File photo Portland

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