As budget vote nears, plans begin for future-years cutbacks
FALLS VILLAGE â€” At its regular monthly meeting Monday, May 10, the Board of Finance set Friday, May 21, 7 p.m. as the date and time for the town meeting to act on the townâ€™s spending plans for the fiscal year 2010-11. The vote will be held at the Senior Center on Main Street (the former Town Hall).
First Selectman Pat Mechare was on hand Monday to explain that the Board of Selectmen had decided to add a 3-percent raise in salaries for the registrars of voters and the social services director.
Mechare said that those departments had not submitted a request for raises, but after reflection the selectmen felt if some town hall employees were getting raises, everybody should.
That increase comes to $804, which brings the bottom line for town government to $1,542,790, an increase of $26,542 or 1.75 percent over the 2009-10 budget.
The total of proposed education spending is $2,812,992 â€” $1,788,719 for the Lee H. Kellogg School and $1,024,273 for Region One.
Warnings of grim future
Mechare also gave the Board of Finance a letter from the selectmen, expressing concern about future spending and â€œthe longterm fiscal health of the town.â€
The letter says that the selectmen have reduced contributions to nonrecurring capital accounts â€” where the town puts away money for big-ticket items such as firetrucks and procedures such as an assessorsâ€™ revaluation â€” as much as possible while allowing the accounts â€œto serve the intended purpose.â€
â€œNot too far down the road, the Board of Selectmen will be faced with hard choices regarding staffing, salaries and benefits,â€ the letter warned.
The letter is pessimistic about state aid, expecting it to dwindle, and raises the possibility of â€œcutting back or perhaps eliminating the grants to local nonprofits that have been part of our smart investing.â€
Cutbacks possible at school
And the letter goes on to say that the Board of Education must â€œlook very closelyâ€ at reducing staffing at the Lee H. Kellogg School, a notion that was floated during last monthâ€™s public hearing on the spending plans.
â€œWe do not think it unreasonable for consideration of staff reductions to be seriously discussed, given the low student-teacher ratio and the high per-pupil costâ€ at Kellogg.
The latest figures from the Region One business office have the yearly cost per pupil at Kellogg at $21,074, based on 95 students. Kellogg Principal Maria Bulson said at the public hearing that the school expects to have 85 students in the next school year.
Cornwallâ€™s cost-per-pupil is the highest in Region One, at $21,637 (based on 120 students). North Canaan is the lowest, at $15,116 (328 students).
Mechare told the finance board that the selectmen believe the three boards â€” selectmen, finance and education â€” need to meet jointly to discuss staffing policy at the school. The Board of Finance passed a resolution to that effect, with the selectmen taking the lead on arranging such a meeting, probably in late summer or early fall.
â€œWe have to think about the entire town,â€ said Mechare. â€œWe can only go so far, tapping into the general fundâ€ to cover revenue shortfalls.
Before the board adjourned, Co-chairman George Elling said about the Kellogg School, â€œI think weâ€™re in general agreement that weâ€™re paying a premium price but I donâ€™t know if weâ€™re getting a premium productâ€ and asked that in the next budget cycle the school officials â€œconvince us.â€
Chuck Lemmen noted that board members have an open invitation to go to the school and see for themselves, but Elling said, â€œI canâ€™t judge thatâ€ and asked instead for a more statistical analysis.
Kent Allyn said when he was chairman of the Board of Education one way of measuring the schoolâ€™s success was to see how many Falls Village children were on the honor roll at Housatonic Valley Regional High School. Elling said that was the sort of information he was interested in.
Co-chairman Louis Timolat, conceding his lack of objectivity on the subject, described the school as â€œa gem,â€ and Mechare added: â€œI had kids at Kellogg for 20 years and itâ€™s top-notch. But the Board of Education and the school have to be openâ€ to the possibility of changes in staffing.