The Board of Finance approved the Town budget on March 4th.
The comprehensive budget we sent to the Town Council fully funds our schools, police, fire, and town programs. The budget supports our parks, all the health and human services requests including important programs such as Kids in Crisis, all the emergency services, town sports, town departments, Bristow Bird sanctuary, and so many other important programs and initiatives, including the necessary capital needs for buildings, roads, and equipment including a new roof at the High School. We were able to support all these important programs and departments while keeping funds raised through taxation flat again for the fourth year in a row. This was a very difficult goal to accomplish this year, but everyone did an incredible job. Through careful spending and planning, we have not cut school programs, sports, arts, teachers, important social programs, emergency services, and safety spending, or been forced to raise taxes as many districts have done across Connecticut.
We also know that we still face uncertainty with Covid. The Board of Education requested special appropriations for additional Covid related expenses. The Board of Finance supports these special appropriations as well but has deferred approving an exact amount while we wait to gather more details, more facts, and have a better picture of both the expenses and the potential for reimbursements. We will make the appropriations once we have a clearer picture. To consider this deferral as any kind of cut would be reckless and inaccurate. As always, we will work with everyone including the Board of Education, and the school administration to get it right. Just as we did this past year when we approved $1.9 million dollars’ worth of special appropriations to fund Covid related expenses like hand sanitation stations, Plexiglas, and other items to keep our schools open, and our students, and teachers safe. That was the right thing to do.
This budget cycle was unusually long and challenging. It really began a year ago in March 2020, just a few weeks after we approved the current year’s budget. As the pandemic swept the world, financial concerns gripped towns, cities, and States. We were prepared. Working with the Selectman’s office and Town Council, we cautiously approved spending, while holding back capital investments for non-emergency projects. Through careful spending, a strong “rainy day” fund, and solid financial management we were able to meet all these important priorities without raising taxes.
Today, we remain in strong financial shape. Our “rainy day” fund is still in the range we plan for. Our debt has declined, and our pensions remain fully funded. Our schools were able to remain open, and our Town has successfully weathered the storm thus far.
The Town leadership, taxpayers, and the Board of Finance completely support our great school system as we have for more than 25 years. That is why it is a leading district. It takes time. We want to retain our great schools for the next decade. That remains our top priority. The budget we approved March 4th invests $101 million in our schools to cover everything including health expenses, operating expenses, teachers, administration costs, aides, substitutes, buses, sports, arts, capital and debt expenses, and all the other town supported expenses for the Board of Education including pension costs, 401a costs, and lease equipment costs. Over the next decade, we will likely invest over $1 Billion to support our leading school district. This town has always believed it is an important social responsibility to have a leading school district. We will always assess spending and ask how to optimize the money spent. But the town bodies share a common goal – providing for and delivering a top tier school district every year.
The Town Council will review the budget, provide their input, and send it back to the Board of Finance in April. We will finalize a few key things including the amount to be raised by taxation and the mill rate. We will finalize our capital plan, then have a final vote in June.
Speaking on behalf of the Board of Finance, we are very grateful for all the hours and hard work everyone and every department put into this year’s process under very difficult circumstances. I also want to thank the Board of Finance for an extraordinary job. This board’s job is to financially meet the growing and important needs of our town and taxpayers while keeping spending and taxes in check. They brought guidance, experience, insight, and creativity every week over the past year to help us successfully navigate through numerous challenges, putting in more hours than ever before. This budget achieves our important goals, including funding the town’s priorities, while maintaining a strong financial position. We achieved these goals through all the good, collaborative work that has been done, and through cash management efforts and focused spending disciplines over the past four years.
In summary, the current year has been a challenging one on all fronts. Revenues have been under pressure. We lost $1 million for example in parking fee and permit revenues compared with prior years. Overall, we have worked through all the challenges. A big thank you to our town employees, our teachers, our Selectmen, all our incredible town volunteers including our Board of Education and Town Council partners, and our parents and taxpayers who we serve every day. We met the urgent needs of our town employees, our schools, and students this year. Our job is to make sure we are in a position to meet these kinds of needs in any environment.
We will maintain financial strength as a town, while we continuously improve the assets, the services, and the support that our residents expect. In short, provide excellent value while helping New Canaan succeed financially in good times and bad.
Chairman, Board of Finance