Lyme Budget Proposal Heads to Virtual Hearing on April 28 with 3 percent Cut

LYME — The Board of Finance will present on April 28 a 2020-21 budget proposal of $10.6 million, which would be a 3 percent decrease from the passed budget for 2019-20. Residents and taxpayers will be able to submit questions to the finance board by email in advance and also dial into the teleconferenced hearing.

Finance Board Chair Dan Hagan said in a Monday phone interview that this budget should require no mill rate increase, but that won’t be settled until the finance board gives its final approval for the budget and sets a mill rate at their May 12 meeting.

“The budget reflects the values that Lyme holds near and dear,” Hagan said, adding that the budget prioritizes a low the mill rate while setting money aside into funds for open space, affordable housing, and upcoming bridge repairs.

Hagan said Lyme’s budget this year benefits from the first ever year-to-year budget decrease at Lyme-Old Lyme Schools, reduced debt service, and significant infrastructure improvements by Eversource that expanded the town’s tax base.

The Board of Selectmen voted on April 6 to invest the finance board with the authority to approve a 2020-21 budget after a public hearing, absent a town referendum. Gov. Ned Lamont granted towns this power in a March 21 executive order in an effort to prevent the spread of the coronavirus at in-person meetings and referendums.

“We thought that was a very smart thing to do,” Hagan said. “The selectmen were quick to approve that, and the Board of Finance is ready to take that responsibility.”

The board tentatively approved the budget for publication at their April 7 meeting, Hagan said.

Board members will present the budget at a teleconferenced hearing on Tuesday April 28 at 6:30 PM.

In advance of the meeting, town residents can review the budget and email questions to LymeBudgetComments@gmail.com. Hagan said that questions will be addressed as part of the April 28 hearing.

The budget proposal includes a $50,000 item in public safety capital expenses for responding to the coronavirus, and Hagan said that the general government contingency line item was also increased from $20,000 to $50,000 to meet unexpected expenses from the virus.

Hagan added that town leadership has been researching programs that the governor has offered towns to extend tax deadlines as relief for property owners.

What makes a budget decrease possible

Over 60 percent of Lyme’s budgeted expenses are for Lyme-Old Lyme schools. The regional school board in February passed a 2020-21 budget that includes the district’s first ever year-to-year decrease in expenses, which was made possible by reduced debts, added teacher retirements, and an unexpectedly low bid for a tennis court project.

Hagan said Monday that Lyme’s share of the regional school district budget will also be lower this year than last year because Lyme is projected to have a smaller share of the overall Lyme-Old Lyme student population.

As proposed, Lyme’s education budget will be $6,442,774 for 2020-21, 2.08 percent less than the 2019-20 education budget of $6,579,421.

Lyme’s most recent grand list net assessment — the inventory of all property in town subject to local taxes — also grew in comparison to the previous year. As of October 1, 2019, Lyme’s grand list totaled $501,103,491, which was about $7.3 million or 1.49 percent more than that of the October 2018 grand list of $493,738,358. 

This additional property means the town will take in more money in tax revenue without raising tax rates.

Hagan said that this grand list increase was more than Lyme typically sees in a year, and that the majority of the increase came from infrastructure installations by Eversource including new and renovated circuits and poles.

The town’s expenses for debt redemption will also be lower in the upcoming year, which Hagan said came from lower costs associated with debt on town hall and library improvements in recent years. The 2019-20 budget included $592,612 for debt redemption, while the 2020-21 proposal includes $430,837.

Despite the windfalls, Hagan said he was wary of reducing the mill rate because the town will have to pay for repairs at two bridges — Birch Mill Road Bridge and Macintosh Road Bridge — in the coming years. The selectmen’s budget includes appropriating $275,000 into a capital fund to save for those upcoming bridge projects and avoid “wild oscillations in the mill rate from year to year,” Hagan said.

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