Colchester Votes Down Budget for Second Time in a Nailbiter

COLCHESTER — For the second time this year, voters have rejected their town’s budget proposal, voting down the second proposal by a margin of six votes on Tuesday – 873 in favor and 879 opposed.

Colchester First Selectman Mary Bylone said on Wednesday that the budget will go back to the Board of Finance for the third time, and they will come up with a plan to bring another proposal before voters.

“It’s a well-oiled machine at this point, because we’ve been practicing quite a bit this year,” Bylone said.

In June, Colchester voters rejected the first budget proposal that would have increased the mill rate by 0.71 mills – about 2 percent – to 33.55 mills, with 845 votes in favor of passing the budget and 1,022 votes opposed. 

The town Board of Finance then removed $30,000 in proposed road spending, and cut another $61,181 from the proposal by eliminating one of two new police officer positions in the budget. That budget proposal, which voters rejected on Tuesday, would have raised the mill rate by 0.27 mills to 33.11 mills.

Andreas Bisbikos, a member of the Board of Finance who has announced he will be challenging Bylone for first selectman this year on the Republican ticket, said he believes the budget has been voted down twice because people don’t want any tax increase, and are frustrated with Bylone – who Bisbikos said has not been transparent during the budget process.

“In terms of what we can do to get the next budget to pass, we need everybody, Democrats and Republicans, to work collaboratively to identify solutions that could potentially reduce the current budget,” Bisbikos said.

Bylone said she has made every attempt to share information about the budget, including weekly public forums on Facebook – but said she clearly needs to find a better way to explain the budget. 

Bylone said she doesn’t believe Tuesday night’s vote made it clear what the people of Colchester wanted, since the measure failed by only 6 votes in a referendum where 1,755 people voted – 15 percent of the active voters in town. 

“Somebody is going to say, ‘Well the people have spoken.’ Well, which group of people have spoken? The 50 percent who voted yes, or the 50 percent who voted no?” Bylone said.

Bylone said the delayed implementation of the budget has affected town operations including issuing building permits. Colchester, like other towns, has seen a spike in building permit requests, and the budget includes funding for an additional 10 hour-a-week position to help process.

“We’re not meeting the needs of people who are complaining that it’s taking 30 days to get a permit approved to put up a shed, or to get wiring approved so they can drywall,” she said

Bisbikos said he had identified some areas that could potentially be reduced in the budget, but said those would be better to bring up during a Board of Finance meeting. The board is scheduled to meet at 6:30 p.m. next Wednesday, Aug. 4.

In April, Bylone proposed a $16.4 million budget – an 8.24 percent increase in spending over last year. The Board of Finance cut about $530,000 from that proposal before the first referendum, including $326,000 in capital expenses that the board said could be funded with COVID relief funds from the American Rescue Plan Act.

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