COLCHESTER — Voters approved a budget Wednesday that increased funding to the town and Board of Education, after a prior referendum was rejected over complaints the proposals were too low.
In June, the school budget was rejected by a 529–1,546 vote, and the town budget was rejected by a 741–1,335 vote. About 61 percent of people who gave a reason for their rejection said the original budgets were “too low.”
The Board of Finance then voted in July to add $27,000 to the town budget and $300,000 to the Board of Education budget. The $27,000 – a proposal from the Republican board members – would include $12,000 toward elections, $15,000 for planning and zoning, and additional money for legal and human resources.
Board of Finance Chair Andrea Migliaccio noted at a June meeting that referendums cost about $6,000 to coordinate, and that she wanted more money set aside in case they needed multiple budget referendums.
The Board of Education had requested a budget increase of $4.1 million, or 9.8 percent, in April. But the finance board asked the school board to lower its ask by $1.7 million, leading the district to cut programs and teachers, as well as decrease the legal and health insurance budgets.
Finance board member Mike Egan said an extra $300,000 – a proposal from the Democratic board members – would be enough to pay for world language teachers, a business teacher, fund the school band program and pay for additional security.
“It doesn’t do everything, but some of the more important programs that some of the parents and the school were really concerned about losing … this will offset some of those impacts,” Egan said.
Migliaccio said while she wasn’t in favor of the budget increase, she recognized the town needed to pass a budget.
If the budget failed to pass referendum a second time, the Board of Finance would reduce the next budget by $250,000, she said.
Superintendent Dan Sullivan recommended during an Aug. 2 Board of Education meeting that the district use $45,000 of the increase to pay for band, $150,000 to place safety officers in the school and $92,000 to hire two teachers for the World Languages Program — a French teacher at Bacon Academy and a Spanish teacher at William J. Johnston Middle School.
Sullivan warned they would need to find people to fill both posts, which could be challenging.
“Unfortunately, once the decision was made to eliminate world languages, we had teachers who became nervous about their possible livelihoods and took positions in other districts,” he said.
Sullivan said it’s unlikely the funding could be used to hire another business teacher, since the former teacher left and they would have to hire someone on short notice.
At the June meeting, Board of Finance members Tim Vaillencourt and John Thomas said they were concerned about raising taxes, particularly in light of an error that town Assessor John Chaponis discovered on the grand list that reduces the town’s estimated tax income by $455,000.
But Migliaccio said at the July meeting that the town’s investment income was bringing in $75,000 to $90,000 a month because of the Federal Reserve’s decision to raise interest rates to 5 percent.
“It has served us very, very well,” Migliaccio said.
First Selectman Andreas Bisbikos noted that revenue from building permits had also increased “exponentially,” and that there had been a higher number of delinquent taxes.
As a result, Migliaccio said, the department could set a mill rate increase of 0.40, lower than the original proposed hike of 0.42.
The budget passed 1,206–555 in favor of the school budget and 1,294–464 in favor of the town budget.
The Board of Finance voted Wednesday to set the mill rate at 27.22 mills.