East Hamp­ton vot­ers re­ject $15.17M bud­get pack­age

The Middletown Press (Middletown, CT) - - Front Page - By Jeff Mill jeff.mill@hearst­medi­act.com.

EAST HAMP­TON — Vot­ers Tues­day over­whelm­ing re­jected the gen­eral gov­ern­ment bud­get in a re-vote that ap­peared to fo­cus on an ear­lier re­duc­tion in the Board of Ed­u­ca­tion bud­get.

The re­sult has spawned a range of com­pli­ca­tions.

In the orig­i­nal ref­er­en­dum vote May 14, the gen­eral gov­ern­ment (or town) bud­get was de­feated by three votes, while the ed­u­ca­tion bud­get sailed through to ap­proval. The de­feat of the $15.17 mil­lion gen­eral gov­ern­ment bud­get — which ac­counts of all none­d­u­ca­tion spend­ing — re­quired a revote, which took place dur­ing 14-hour ref­er­en­dum Tues­day.

This time, the mar­gin of de­feat was 170 votes.

A to­tal of 1,404 peo­ple voted (12 by ab­sen­tee bal­lots) out of the 8,633 el­i­gi­ble to do so, moder­a­tor Robert “Red” McKin­ney said.

The Board of Fi­nance will meet Mon­day to de­cide how to pro­ceed.

In East Hamp­ton, a no vote on a bud­get means the bud­get will be re­duced. How­ever, Fi­nance Board Chair­man Michael Rose said Tues­day he does not be­lieve the in­for­mal rule should ap­ply in this in­stance.

“I don’t look at this as a sig­nal from the vot­ers that they want the bud­get cut,” Rose said just af­ter the vote to­tals were an­nounced. In­stead, Rose said he looked upon the de­feat as a mes­sage from ed­u­ca­tion sup­port­ers that “they want money put back in to a sup­ple­men­tal ap­pro­pri­a­tion to the Board of Ed.”

How­ever, the Town Coun­cil has al­ready al­lo­cated much of money from a state grant to be used to pay down the an­tic­i­pated in­crease in the tax rate.

The $700,000 in Ed­u­ca­tion Cost Shar­ing funds were part of a last-minute bill ap­proved by the Gen­eral As­sem­bly dur­ing the dy­ing hours of the leg­isla­tive ses­sion. Gov. Dan­nel P. Mal­loy, mean­while, has ar­gued he re­tains the power to can­cel the ECS grants to the cities and towns.

In the mean­time, an­tic­i­pat­ing the bud­get might not pass, the town coun­cil ear­lier Tues­day evening set a tem­po­rary tax rate at the cur­rent rate of 31.32 mills. The coun­cil’s ac­tion will en­able As­ses­sor Gail Gwiaz­dowski and As­ses­sor’s As­sis­tant Kathi Race to pre­pare the tax bills that will go out later this month.

How­ever, once the gen­eral gov­ern­ment bud­get is fi­nally ap­proved, it will also force the town to send out a sup­ple­men­tal tax bill, Town Man­ager Michael Manis­calco ac­knowl­edged.

The usual pat­tern in town is for the ed­u­ca­tion bud­get to be voted down while res­i­dents give their OK to ap­prove the town bud­get. How­ever, this year that for­mula was turned on its head.

The Board of Ed­u­ca­tion had pre­sented a bud­get call­ing for a 3.73 per­cent in­crease in spend­ing in the 2018-19 fis­cal year which be­gins July 1. The fi­nance board’s Repub­li­can ma­jor­ity dra­mat­i­cally scaled back the size of the in­crease, re­duc­ing the pro­posed in­crease by $670,000, a 1.5 per­cent hike.

That de­ci­sion raised the hack­les of a num­ber of ed­u­ca­tion sup­port­ers who al­ter­nately begged, pleaded or de­manded a restora­tion of some or all of the de­crease. When that change was not forth­com­ing, they hit upon an­other ap­proach: vot­ing down the gen­eral gov­ern­ment bud­get as a way of ex­press­ing their up­set over the re­duc­tion in ed­u­ca­tion fund­ing.

Some sup­port­ers were also an­gered be­cause town of­fi­cials would not au­to­mat­i­cally com­mit to us­ing some or all of a $700,000 state grant to re­store fund­ing for ed­u­ca­tion. How­ever, by vot­ing down the gen­eral gov­ern­ment bud­get, ed­u­ca­tion sup­port­ers have placed in jeop­ardy cap­i­tal items that ben­e­fit the schools, in­clud­ing safety door locks for class­rooms and funds for com­puter tablets for stu­dents and Chrome­books for teach­ers.

In East Hamp­ton, spend­ing for cap­i­tal items is con­tained in the town bud­get.

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