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Boards debate how to meet costs

FALLS VILLAGE — The Board of Finance will present a draft recommendation to reduce the Board of Education’s request for appropriations for 2011-12 by $24,000 to the April 25 budget public hearing.At the regular meeting of the finance board Monday, April 11, Lou Timolat emphasized that the Board of Finance has two functions: to approve or disapprove purposes for spending, and to recommend appropriations. For the Lee H. Kellogg School appropriation, the finance board can recommend a total bottom line amount but not specific items or amounts to add or cut.George Elling, who made the motion to recommend the $24,000 cut, said the finance board was going to have to draw from the general fund and increase property taxes to cover the large Region One assessment that is due in the coming fiscal year— a figure that is between $340,000 and $360,000. That assessment is the major hurdle in this year’s budget process. The town is charged a fee by the school district based on the number of students enrolled at Housatonic Valley Regional High School in October of the previous fiscal year. This year’s assessment is based on the number of students at the high school in October 2010; that number was unexpectedly high.Towns in Region One have two education budgets. One is for the regional school expenses; one is for the town’s own elementary school (Lee Kellogg, in this case).Elling said his analysis of Kellogg’s expenditures led him to believe that additional reductions in the Board of Education bottom line would be necessary.At the same time, though, he said, “I don’t want the Board of Education to make changes so drastic that it would hurt us down the road.”At the last finance meeting, Timolat made a similar motion, asking for a draft recommendation reducing the education line by $12,000. That motion was tabled, but the finance board did ask the Board of Education for a $12,000 reduction. The school board met the next night and did not make any reductions.Timolat said he had initially thought a larger reduction was appropriate, but in discussions with Kellogg Principal Maria Bulson he had changed his mind. “I don’t think we should start to do something we would regret.”Elling said he believed the Region One increase would be toward the lower end of the estimate. He then sketched out a scenario in which the town would draw down the general fund to the tune of about $217,000; add a half a mill increase to the tax rate for an additional $95,000; and get about $30,000 in net savings from the Board of Education, for a total of roughly $342,000 — enough to cover the Region One assessment.Elling, Finance Board Co-chair Tom Grayson, and Chuck Lemmen voted for the draft recommendation. Timolat voted against it, but conceded, “I don’t know precisely what the right thing is.”Lemmen said afterward that he voted in favor of the motion reluctantly. “I would like the Board of Education to tell us what it would mean to them,” and Timolat suggested that board members make an appointment with Bulson to find out. Municipal budgetFirst Selectman Pat Mechare reported that the selectmen’s proposed municipal spending plan now contained the adjustment the finance board requested: dropping a $5,000 line in the Recreation Commission’s appropriation for improvements to the Town Farm property.The public hearing is Monday, April 25, 7 p.m. at the Kellogg school. Copies of the two proposed spending plans — education and municipal — will be available at Town Hall.The bottom lines going in are: municipal, approximately $1,537,770, which is essentially a zero percent increase in total spending; education, $1,737,584, which represents a 2.9 percent decrease.But this is a tricky year, and there are still matters to be settled — like the Board of Finance’s draft recommendation. Notes: The regular monthly selectmen’s meeting followed the finance board (which ran long). The meeting was largely routine, but Mechare asked that anyone interested in serving on a joint committee of Falls Village and Salisbury residents on the subject of the Water Street bridge repair project should get in touch with her (Timolat has already agreed to serve).

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