BRISTOL - The Joint Board voted Wednesday to approve the 2017-18 town and education budget, increasing the school budget by 3 percent but requiring no tax increase.
The board, comprised of members of the Board of Finance and City Council, approved the $191,540,815 budget and set the tax rate at 37.98 mills for personal property and 32 mills for motor vehicles. The budget passed along party lines with Democratic Councilors David Preleski, Calvin Brown and Mary Fortier opposed.
The spending level was what the finance board recommended.
“I said last year that we were facing headwinds and now that has escalated into monsoon season with the state budget, which is anything but stable or predictable,” Cheryl Thieault, chairwoman of the finance board said.
“Given these obstacles we emerged with a plan to provide a budget that ensures economic growth and vitality and sees a substantial increase in education. The taxpayers look to us to be frugal and we acted with the best information available to us at the time.”
Thieault said that the education budget was reduced from the requested 7.2 percent increase to 3 percent after a series of workshops.
“This is not just an election year gimmick,” said Thieault, who is running as a Republican for City Council in November. “We are growing our grand list and savings through smart attrition, combining positions and allocating funds all while improving aging infrastructure and technology. We have also spread out capital projects to minimize the tax impact.”
Thieault said that she anticipated that the state will not settle on a budget until early fall. The city’s budget reflects proposed state cuts to education cost sharing money from the state.
“We need to be prepared for additional impact from the state and federal government,” she said. “We need to be able to attract businesses to grow our grand list and eliminate duplicate duties and spending.”
Prior to the budget vote, school board member Karen Vibert spoke against cuts to local schools.
“I thank you for the 3 percent increase - which I have not seen since before I was on the board - and I have been on it for 10 years,” she said. “But I ask you to consider raising it to the full 7 percent increase.”
The reduction to the school board’s request “will likely lead to us losing eight high school teachers, five elementary school teachers and one administrator position as well as support staff and technologies - basically an across the board cut,” Vibert said “I believe we need to be fully funded. We’re not asking for more; we’re asking to move forward with what we have now.”
“The services we’re providing to students will be greatly affected,” said Councilor Calvin Brown. “Class sizes will increase and it is hard to measure in dollars that impact but we are intelligent enough to know there will be an impact. How many layoffs are there on the city side? Zero. I cannot in good conscience vote for a budget that balances on the backs of the children and the Board of Education and only them.”
“We didn’t arrive at a zero increase by magic,” said Mayor Ken Cockayne. “I have spoken with our representatives in Hartford who have said with high confidence that education cost sharing will not be cut. We do not want to overtax residents during difficult times. There is no department in the city that got everything they asked for. They all got cut. We have been very diligent in crafting this budget. We look at every single penny.”
Brian M. Johnson can be reached at 860-973-1806 or firstname.lastname@example.org.