MONROE — An initial proposal for a $93,281.657 budget for 2021-22 has already been further reduced by First Selectman Ken Kellogg.
Mr. Kellogg made his initial budget presentation to the Town Council on Monday, February 8, but later announced the additional reductions, bringing the projected increase down potentially to where taxes might rise less than 3%.
The original total breaks down into $29,742,774 for municipal government, $61,791,068 for the education department and an additional $1,747,815 for capital appropriations and contingency.
Later in the week, Mr. Kellogg wrote, “My budget was delivered to Town Council on February 8, 2021, as required by Town Charter. Since Monday, we have received two pieces of encouraging news. First, the governor’s proposed state budget suspends a previously scheduled reduction in state aid from the Education Cost Sharing grant.
“Second, we received new estimates for health care insurance rate increases, which are more favorable than what we had originally received.”
He continued, “I am very hopeful that these two significant items alone can further reduce the projected tax increase to under 3%. I am ready to work closely with our Town Council and Board of Finance as they conduct their review of the budget, and to incorporate further refinements such as these, so we can present a final budget that Monroe voters can support at referendum on May 4.”
In presenting the budget to the Town Council on February 8, Mr. Kellogg began by explaining that he had once again approached the budget with the overarching goal of controlling taxes while improving roads and infrastructure, delivering cost-effective services to the town, providing an excellent education system and maintaining the town’s financial health.
He said he takes a conservative approach to spending while seeking to foster growth in the town’s Grand List.
The Grand List grew by $17.7 million, but in calculating taxes, the town would set aside $1.1 million of that growth for contingency and adjustments for tax benefits and successful appeals, leaving a $16.6 million growth in the Grand List for tax purposes.
The budget proposed a 2.16% increase in municipal spending. The key drivers of that increase were wages and salaries at $460,000, estimated insurance at $202,000, and an increase in pension contribution estimated at $115,000, partly offset by a reduction in debt service of $181,000.
Mr. Kellogg said he is proposing a part-time position in the building department be increased to full-time due to greater activity, to be partly offset by the accompanying increase in fees collected.
He also proposed a new permanent position for a new Economic Development Department. This would be offset eventually by an increase in the Grand List due to an expansion in commercial development, something that would also reduce the tax burden on homeowners.
The Board of Education budget, included in the total, was originally approved by that board at a 5.85% increase. Mr. Kellogg explained to Town Council that, working with the superintendent and the finance director, they were subsequently able to reduce that budget by $132,000.
The decrease included $58,000 for a reduction in a legal settlement, $41,000 for a contingency amount now covered by other funds, $4,000 for the pension payment (estimate versus actual) and $29,000 for the allocation for worker’s compensation and liability.
Mr. Kellogg outlined several actions to reduce the property tax impact of the increase. He explained that last year the Board of Finance had agreed to allocate up to $8 million from the unassigned fund balance to offset tax increases during a pandemic.
The town had not needed the full amount, however, so part of that money is still available to offset this year’s tax increase, as the town and state transition out of a health emergency.
Mr. Kellogg said that initially the potential increase in taxes was more than 9%, but with all these steps, the town was able to reduce that increase to 3.31%, with 84% of that increase coming from the education department and 16% from municipal government. Now, with the update by the end of the week, that percentage has been further reduced to under 3%.
The Town Council will conduct its Public Hearing on the budget at 7 p.m. Thursday, February 18. Instructions for remote participation will be posted on the agenda on the town website. Budget documents are available at www.MonroeCT.org/budget.
Following the hearing, the council will continue reviewing the budget, meeting with selected department heads. The council is scheduled to turn the budget over to the Board of Finance on March 15.
The finance board will conduct one or more budget workshops, with the budget returned to the first selectman no later than April 20 for a referendum. The charter dictates the referendum date as May 4.
In other action, the Town Council approved the following appointments: Susan Koneff, Library Board of Trustees, term ending November 30, 2023; Samantha Spino, Conservation and Water Resources Commission, term ending December 5, 2021, and Cynthia Giancaspro, Parks and Recreation Commission, term ending October 21, 2023.
The following reappointment was made: Mary Hall, Economic Development Commission, term ending January 31, 2026.