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Cornwall budgets face public hearing on April 22

CORNWALL — Following discussion at a special meeting on Thursday, April 7, the Board of Finance voted unanimously to send the proposed town budgets totaling $7,467,890 on to a public hearing scheduled for Friday, April 22. The hearing will be conducted in person and also on Zoom.

Based on feedback from the public hearing, the finance board will consider any adjustments before presenting the municipal and education budget proposals to the town meeting Friday, May 20, which will be conducted in person and on Zoom. Only those voters present in person will be able to vote.

The initial round of federal American Rescue Act Plan (ARPA) funding provided to the town, a total of $200,000, with an equal amount expected to be received in June, has made it easier for small towns to navigate through the COVID-19 pandemic’s effects.

To date, $103,964 has been expended, leaving an additional $47,873 to be distributed.

“I think the ARPA program worked well and strengthened our local businesses,” First Selectman Gordon Ridgway said. Disposition of the final portion of the first round of ARPA funding will be added to the May town meeting agenda.

Looking ahead to significant budget challenges expected in coming years, Ridgway urged that budget planning to meet those challenges should begin now.

As an example, he noted that next year, Cornwall will send 10 more students to Housatonic Valley Regional High School, up from this year’s four students to a total of 14. The cost per pupil for each student currently stands at about $34,000 per year.

“It is best to keep your powder dry this year,” Ridgway said, suggesting a conservative approach to keeping the town’s reserve funds strong.

Board of Finance Chairman Joe Pryor agreed that the anticipated bump-up should be taken into account this year.

Also on the horizon is planning for a West Cornwall wastewater project, now that a $3 million federal grant has been announced. If the project is approved by voters, Ridgway said that planning might call for another $3 million to be bonded. Such bonding would dovetail into the retirement of the bonding for the construction of Cornwall Consolidated School.

Pryor commented that there is more than $2 million in unappropriated funds, familiarly known as the town’s “rainy day fund,” and that amount is projected to increase.

He noted that it is possible to use that fund to keep the town’s mill rate steady. Each year, Pryor said, the portion allotted to keep the mill rate down never gets used and the rainy-day fund stays healthy.

Treasurer Richard Bramley reminded the board that the recent revaluation of taxable property meant that 30-40% of local property values increased, bringing those homeowners an increase in taxes already.

“We should be careful on behalf of those people,” Bramley said.

“We are in a good position in a number of ways,” Ridgway said, citing the work of the Board of Education in keeping its expenses low, and the benefit of an increase in the number of volunteers working as emergency personnel, where other towns are facing a need to hire.

“I see the next couple of years as challenging, but manageable,” Ridgway said.

Pryor observed that the mill rate has been flat for four years. “We are in the range of what we have always done,” he added.

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