What the budgets are all about
Many articles in recent and future weeks in The Lakeville Journal are about the budget process.
Each town in the state has to put together two budgets each year, one for municipal spending and one for education spending.
The municipal budget covers town business expenses that range from the salaries for town officials to the cost of sand and salt for the roads in winter.
The education budgets cover the K-8 schools in each of the six Region One School District towns. Those towns are Canaan (known as Falls Village), Cornwall, Kent, North Canaan, Salisbury and Sharon.
Each town has its own board of education and its own school for students in grades kindergarten to eight. Certain costs for those schools are mandated by the state and by teacher contracts.
Those six towns share a regional high school (Housatonic Valley Regional High School in Falls Village), which has its own board of education. The schools also share regional education services such as special education and the regional administrators’ salaries (including for example the superintendent and assistant superintendent and the business manager).
The regional budget is generally proposed first and each of the towns includes their share of the total cost in their own education budget. The share is determined by the number of students their town sent to the high school on the first day of October in the prior year (so the 2020-21 budget will be based on the student population in October 2019).
In a normal year, the Region One budget is voted on by all six towns in a referendum early in May, after a public hearing in April.
Towns hold their own public hearings, usually in April, and then vote on their municipal and education budgets in May (usually after the Region One referendum).
Immediately after the town meetings, finance boards set the mill rate for the new fiscal year.
Some towns vote on their education and municipal spending plans as one budget; other towns vote on them as two separate budgets.
The boards of finance that present the final budgets to the taxpayers are all volunteers.
The selectmen are on salary; the first selectman is considered a full-time worker but the other two selectmen work part time and earn lower salaries.
The boards of education are made up of all volunteers.
Once the budgets have been accepted, the boards of finance meet to set the town’s mill rate.
The mill rate determines property taxes in Connecticut towns. A mill represents $1 in tax for every $1,000 of assessed property value. A 15-mill tax rate would translate into a tax bill of $1,500 for the owner of a home assessed at $100,000.
The grand list is the total assessed value of all taxable property in a town.
Properties are assessed at 70 percent of their total value.
Because of the COVID quarantine, the state has given towns a one-month extension on the due date for their budgets.
And towns have the authority to skip the usual public hearing and town budget meeting requirements.
The towns are now working on their spending plans in meetings that are held on Zoom or other group online conference apps.
Eventually, all the towns will post their budget plans and the schedule of online public hearings and online town meetings at their websites.
Some towns, such as Salisbury, have already announced that the normal public hearing and town budget meeting will not be held. Final approval of the budgets will be made by the selectmen.
Other towns, such as Falls Village, are waiting to see if restrictions on public gatherings are lifted in time to proceed normally.
The Region One Board of Education is holding a special meeting online on Tuesday, April 28, at 6:30 p.m. to discuss the budget and the process going forward.
The Lakeville Journal as a public service is running occasional pieces explaining how life works in this part of New England. They can be found online at our website at www.tricornernews.com/northwest-corner-essentials.