Durham’s Board of Finance presented a 2019-20 town budget proposal during a public hearing on Monday. The plan includes a 4.6 percent increase in spending, but the board says taxes will not increase.
The budget totals $7,335,884, a 4.6 percent or $323,330 increase from the previous year. According to the budget summary, with $2,038,411 in “less state and local revenue,” the net town budget comes to $5,297,473.
The total represents $6,023,892 of operating budget, about half a million for the reserve fund and about $760,000 in capital funds. Capital and reserve funding together increased about 27 percent, or $266,896.
This year the town is responsible for $23,116,779 for Regional School District 13’s budget. With about $3 million in Educational Cost Sharing, the net total is about $20 million. The Board of Education approved a proposed net total education budget of $34,793,467, an almost 2 percent decrease from the previous year.
The town lost about $6.9 million in revenue this year after the 2018 taxable grand list decreased by almost 1 percent from last year.
With offsets from increased state revenue last year, the reappropriation of reserve interest income and transfer(s) from the undesignated fund balance, the board plans to keep the mill rate flat at 36.50 mills, which would have no effect on taxes. A mill equals $1 in property tax per every $1,000 of a property's taxable value. The owner of a property assessed at $150,000 would pay about $5,475 in taxes annually.
Last year the town saw about $600,000 in unanticipated funds from the state, about half of which was used towards last year’s budget. The other half, about $318,278, is planned to offset expenditures in this proposed budget.
Most notable on the list of capital improvements is $276,760 for upgrades to the town’s communication system. The Board of Selectmen voted in March to incorporate the town’s radio devices into the Connecticut Land Mobile Radio Network. This requires an upgrade to the equipment which the town was already looking to replace due to age.
The amount represents acquisition of 10 interior portable devices and 30 exterior portable devices for the fire department, 41 other portable radios for public works, EMS and general government uses, 21 mobile radios and 13 control stations, according to Board of Finance Chairman Robert Donahue.
About $68,000 also is being allocated to replacing the tennis courts at Allyn Brook Park with an all-purpose surface, which would include pickleball. The Park and Recreation Department also proposed $10,250 to install new playground equipment and will likely include rocker toys for the youngest children.
In the Public Works Department, new guardrails account for $45,000 of capital improvement, $114,700 to sidewalk engineering to supplement a $400,000 grant for Main Street sidewalks, and $155,000 for road reconstruction on DiNatale Drive.
The proposed budget also includes an estimation from an outside consultant for how much the first payment of debt service may cost for the approved appropriation of $2 million in bonds for road culvert repairs. The town used an estimate of $66,000 as a placeholder –which represents a 100 percent increase for that line item – since an exact number has not yet been determined. A decision has not been made as to whether the town will go to the bond market or a private placement through RFP for banks to bid on it, which would affect this number.
Board of Finance members said the amount may change only by a couple thousand dollars up or down, depending on the avenue of borrowing.
The appropriation of $2.1 million to road culvert repairs and replacements was approved by residents in the November referendum, but the Board of Selectmen has been exploring other ways to fund the project besides through bonding, in an effort to keep the town debt-free.
Selectman John T. Szewczyk expressed concern during public comment that this number was included as bond debt instead of in a reserve account, since it has not officially been decided that the town will borrow to pay for the project.
“There are people in town that may enjoy being a debt-free town, so there may be other avenues, and we've discussed this on the Board of Selectmen, about not having to bond for that project,” Szewczyk said. “I just don't want the community to think that that is definitive at this point, that we are going to borrow.”
First Selectman Laura Francis said the town is still on track to borrow, as spreading the cost over time would mean this year's and next year’s budgets both need to be increased by about $1 million.
OPERATING BUDGET CHANGES
The proposed budget includes $40,000 for a shared town planner position with Middlefield. The town planner would be split 20 hours in each town, but Durham plans to contribute an additional $10,000 to the position for zoning and wetlands enforcement officer responsibilities as well.
The proposal also represents a decrease of about $67,000 in health benefit costs, due to a reduction during negotiates through a request for proposal process. The town is also planning for a $22,000 reduction in diesel fuel expenses for Highway Department vehicle fuel due to contracted negotiations with an energy consortium and about a $32,700 reduction in resident state trooper wages due to uncertainty of the state and local share of costs last year.
The board also approved a 2.5 percent salary increase for all union, non-union and elected officials.
The annual town budget meeting is scheduled for Monday, May 13, at 8 p.m. in the Coginchaug Regional High School Auditorium.