MONROE — Around 60 individuals chose to email their concerns or comments on the proposed 2020-21 budget prior to a Thursday, May 14, Public Hearing.
The majority of the emails asked that the Board of Education budget not be cut, with many describing themselves as a parent, an educator or both.
The Board of Finance made no changes to the budget at a meeting following the Public Hearing. The board was to meet again Tuesday, May 19, to do a final check on the budget and officially pass it back to the first selectman, who will have it posted on the town website’s budget page.
Residents and taxpayers will then have another opportunity to submit written comments on the proposed budget.
The Board of Finance will vote to adopt a final budget and set the mil rate at a virtual meeting sometime between June 2 and June 5. Once adopted, the final budget will be posted on the website and filed with the town clerk.
During discussion at the board’s meeting following the Public Hearing, Chairman Michael Manjos commented on the number of people who had protested the education cut, and said, “We are not cutting education, we are not slashing anything.”
During this year’s budget process, the Board of Education cut $500,000 from an original budget proposal that represented a 5.7% increase before handing the revised budget, representing a 4.88% increase, to the first selectman. The first selectman cut the budget by an additional $500,000, down to a 4.01% increase, before handing it off to the Board of Finance.
According to Mr. Manjos, the Board of Finance “has asked all town employees to forgo raises and we have made the adjustments in the budget to allocate for that. On the BOE side it would lower the budget by $912,000.”
He said, “The superintendent and director of finance came up with additional savings due to more accurate numbers that we adjusted the BOE budget down to a 2.19% increase over this year. If all the unions will agree to this plan we can absorb the expected revenue decline and not cut staff.”
In discussing the Board of Education budget, finance member Steve Kirsch said he was still concerned with those reductions. The school board had prepared a list of items it would restore first if more money were available.
At the top of that $550,000 list was maintenance, security staff and a custodian. Mr. Kirsch asked if the board was already taking money from the undesignated fund balance, should it perhaps not consider adding that $550,000 back in?
Mr. Kirsch was in a minority, with others echoing Mr. Manjos’ suggestion the board wait to consider adding money back until September or October. It was entirely possible, he said, that the federal government might provide funds to school districts to assist in preparing schools for dealing with Covid-19 when school resumes, hopefully, in the fall.
Special appropriations could also be made if the school district finds it has unexpected costs related to Covid-19 when school starts, he said.
Craig Hirsch, Rebecca O’Donnell and Dane Krchnavy agreed, with Mr. Hirsch saying that it would be “more prudent to wait and see what happens;” Mr. Krchnavy saying he’s rather wait and “see where we are in a few months;” and Ms. O’Donnell saying “we can have a conversation further down the road.”
Vice Chairman John Ostaszewski said he would be willing to consider if Interim Superintendent Joseph Kobza said the schools really needed the funds. He agreed with Mr. Kirsch that salary concessions might allow some of that funding to be restored.
The finance board has asked all employees, both in town government and the schools, to forego any raises this year. To date, no union has stepped forward with an agreement to do so.
Mr. Kobza said that maintenance was “number one” on his list. “We gutted that,” he said. He would also advocate for the security and custodial staff as well.
The current proposed budget will result in a 35.48 mil rate, as compared to last year’s mil rate of 36.51 mils. First Selectman Ken Kellogg said he wanted to remind everyone that individual taxes may still increase due to revaluation.
If a home has been assessed higher, then the taxes on that home may be higher even with a lower mil rate.
He said he asked the assessor, and the assessor said the average assessment change was an increase of 1.8%.
Mr. Kellogg also took a moment to thank the board for “taking on the unusual responsibility that has been placed on you” this year.