BROOKFIELD — After weeks of deliberations, the Board of Finance approved a $63.2 million budget that calls for a tax increase of 2.45 percent and fully funds the school district’s budget request.
According to preliminary figures discussed at Wednesday night’s finance board meeting, the increase is slightly higher than First Selectman Steve Dunn’s original request and calls for a 3.37 percent increase in overall spending from last year.
Dunn, who initially proposed increasing the tax rate by 2.26 percent, was confident that the spending plan will be ratified by residents when it is put to referendum in May.
He also praised the cooperation between the boards of selectmen, finance and education during the budget process.
“I think getting all the boards together and working together can show how we work cooperatively and achieve a good budget that very accurately meets the needs of the community without overburdening it with new taxes,” Dunn said. “It’s an incredibly good package that the Board of Finance passed and I think the town will approve it.”
If the plan is approved, residents will pay $26.33 per $1,000 assessed valuation, up 63 cents from last year.
The budget includes money to hire a community development specialist and a purchasing agent that will be shared with the school district. It also includes about $80,000 for a revamp of the town’s zoning laws and funds to lease new portable classrooms for Huckleberry Hill Elementary School.
Board of Finance member Mark Mulvaney, who spearheaded the effort to replace the dilapidated auxiliary structures, said that the $60,000 was much needed to improve conditions for students and teachers at the school. He said leasing the structures for the next five years would buy time for the town to come up with a more permanent solution.
“The portables at Huckleberry are embarrassing,” Mulvaney said. “They are embarrassing for the town and embarrassing for taxpayers. It’s great that the Board of Finance and Board of Selectmen supported the new portables.”
Included in the school budget, which is 2.19 percent larger than last year, are funds to restore several teaching and administrative positions lost since the recession. It also includes a new math program, reforms how the board hires substitute teachers and eliminates the pay-to-participate program.
“We worked very closely with the Board of Finance,” said Board of Education Chairman Bob Belden. “We’re very happy for the support they’ve given us.”
Gianazza said that some of the proposals could have been deferred to future years to lessen this year’s tax increase.
“There’s nothing in that budget that I’d say I’m opposed to,” Gianazza said. “It’s a matter of balancing the needs of taxpayers and the urgency of the things we’re requesting.”
He also said that while the new school spending will enhance the district, more outdated programs should have been cut that would free money for new proposals. He noted that the school enrollment continues to decline and said that should be better reflected in the budget.
“I support the new programs that (
Superintendent John Barile) wants to do,” Gianazza said. “They are moving the district in the right direction and I fully support that. But I feel the costs for those new directions could have been made within the existing budget structure.”
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