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Good news: Cornwall underspent

CORNWALL — Sure, blame the bad economy when there are town budget woes and tax increases. But who gets credit when the bottom line is solidly in the black, in spite of it all?In Cornwall, it looks like a combination of careful planning and spending, energy conservation and good timing all account for a 2010-11 budget that came in about $276,000 lower than projected.There were some line item overages here and there, but every department marked savings elsewhere that kept the bottom line in check.For instance, the highway department was over on heating costs, but, in probably the biggest surprise of the fiscal year, was under on snow removal. The reason? “It’s all about materials,” First Selectman Gordon Ridgway said at a July 20 board meeting.One could assume overtime man hours racked up on plow trucks would be the biggest drain on allotted funds. But sand and salt can be real budget breakers. The case this past winter, with its relentless snowstorms, was one of a higher ratio of plowing to sanding icy roads, judicious use of applying sand and the purchase of surplus state sand for pennies on the dollar.More than $75,000 in unspent funds will go back into the town’s general fund.At Cornwall Consolidated School, state grant funding came in at $24,322 less than what the town was advised to budget. But as the fiscal year neared an end, the school board began tracking a sizable surplus. While underspent funds are supposed to be returned to the general fund, the finance board agreed with a school board proposal to put most of the surplus toward capital projects, which included a new Gathering Room floor and revamped lockers for the middle school.A windfall of sorts was the release of $222,324.72 held in a contingency fund for five years awaiting the state’s closing out of the last school renovation project.The town still has, by the way, about $50,000 tied up in a short-term loan issued to aid with the demolition of Rumsey Hall. Promises of impending repayment have been made by the involved bank since January. The selectmen recently directed the town attorney to take aggressive measures to collect the funds. The 18 percent interest is expected to provide a small windfall for the current fiscal year. Those solar voltaic panels at the Town Hall and Town Office are starting to pay off. The relatively small system, with 24 panels mounted on the lawn, is producing a little more electricity than is needed for the two buildings. Since it was installed last November, excess power produced on any given day goes back to the power grid for credit. It all relies on varying conditions, including the amount of sunshine and demand. Sunny weekends are always good. But in this case, they also mean a lower electric bill.Cornwall’s Town Hall bill — about $2,000 annually — has become virtually nonexistent. Credits to date total $50.

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