The News-Times

Target zero

Finance board’s goal is to have no budget increase

- By Kendra Baker

NEW FAIRFIELD — With debt service alone expected to increase the town’s tax rate by more than 4 percent, the Board of Finance is asking the school board and selectmen to aim for zero-percent increases in their 2022-23 budgets.

The finance board came to that consensus Tuesday after Town Treasurer Terry Friedman laid out how the next round of bonding for the two school building projects will affect the town’s future tax rate.

Friedman said $33 million of the $80

Board of Fiance Chair Wes Marsh said the Board of Selectmen has already instructed municipal department heads to come up with no-increase budgets.

million needed for the projects has been bonded so far and will “take us through the end of February” — but the town needs to bond an additional $35 million this coming fiscal year.

The $35 million, coupled with previously deferred bonding principal, will result in a 4.28 percent tax rate increase.

The town’s current tax rate is 31.49. With a 4.28 percent increase, the fiscal year 2022-23 rate would be around 32.84.

Since any operating or capital expense increases would raise the tax rate even higher, the Board of Finance is asking the school board and selectmen to “aim for zero” this budget season.

Board of Fiance Chair Wes Marsh said the Board of Selectmen has already instructed municipal department heads to come up with no-increase budgets.

“I think the Board of Ed is very similar in telling their department heads they’ve got to keep the budgets low because of the new schools and the impact of the bonding,” he said. “It’s going to be a very difficult budget year.”

Finance board member Cheryl Reedy agreed and noted that because of the bonding situation, this budget season will be different from previous ones.

“In the past, we’ve told the boards, ‘We can’t know what you need and what you’re doing without unless you tell us,’” she said. “But this is one of those years where … if there are things that are emergencie­s, obviously we need to hear about them — but if there are things that need to be done, this really is not the year to do them.”

Although taxpayers knew the $29.2 million early learning academy and $84.2 million new high school approved in October 2019 would translate into higher taxes, Reedy said a promise was made to try and keep tax increases low.

“The town voted for this huge school project and it is enormous in terms of its effect on the mill rate, and we promised people that we would do our best to hold down tax increases apart from the effect of the bonding,” she said.

Finance board member Chris D’Esposito agreed, saying that even though “times have changed” since the school projects were voted on, the Board of Finance still has a duty to “find where we can save and cut costs to pay for the schools.”

“We have to do our job, and all the department­s have to do their job to find money to offset this,” he said. “They voted for the school project … so that has to be paid for, but it’s also our job to find other ways to offset some of those costs and do what’s right for the taxpayers.”

Knowing the difficult budget season ahead, Superinten­dent Pat Cosentino is encouragin­g community members to be “mindful” and active participan­ts in the process.

“A zero-percent budget for the Board of Education is going to be very, very difficult,” she said Thursday. “I understand we’re all in a difficult place … but we have worked so very hard over the past years to build up our educationa­l system, and I want to make sure that if we are going to take huge pieces away, that we’re all in agreement.”

The Board of Selectmen will start meeting with town department heads about their budget plans Jan. 10, and Cosentino will present her school budget at 6:30 p.m. Jan. 20.

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