After some final trimming in some areas—notably, increases in police overtime and money for the schools—the Town Council on Wednesday voted to approve an operating budget of $141,211,088 for fiscal year 2016.
The figure represents a 2 percent overall year-over-year increase in spending, including a 2.8 percent increase for the Board of Education.
Calling this budget season the smoothest in recent memory—thanks in large part to the group’s leadership in Chairman Bill Walbert, Vice Chair Steve Karl and Secretary Kathleen Corbet, as well as Budget Director Jennifer Charneski and Finance Director Dawn Norton—councilmen also praised district officials for the granular level of insight they provided into spending on the schools.
Even so, among themselves some debate emerged prior to the vote about a proposal to remove $100,000 from the district’s operating increase (which went through by a 7-4 vote).
Calling it “intellectually unsatisfying” to have the funds removed arbitrarily with no explanation, particularly after so many months with multiple town bodies studying the budget, Councilman John Engel sought to preserve the school’s operating budget as it had been.
Speaking to Walbert and Councilman Roger Williams, Engel said: “It is intellectually unsatisfying that neither of you have told me why [$100,000]? Why not [$90,000]? Why not [$110,000]? It is intellectually unsatisfying to go through this, number by number, and then just be told at 11 o’clock a couple of days ago, and I’ve gotten no documentation since on why that is a good number.”
Williams responded that the figure is not arbitrary and that through the subcommittee process and he has gained insight into both the district’s and town’s budgets.
“I think a $100,000 reduction in the Board of Education budget is a very reasonable request, and I think that it will not affect programs, that’s my personal opinion,” Williams said.
Walbert put the question of where the district would find $100,000 to Superintendent of Schools Dr. Bryan Luizzi—who was in attendance along with several administrators, teachers and school board members—but also conceded that, on the spot, it was a loaded question. Luizzi neither disagreed nor took the podium to respond.
Karl said that if the case is going to be made that the school budget should not be reduced, then an equally passionate argument should be made on the town side. Engel answered that the difference is that reductions in the town budget are made for specific, known and fully vetted line items.
One such item was police overtime spending, which the council addressed by reducing the overall public safety budget from the Board of Finance-recommended $11,261,810 to $11,241,810.
Councilman John Emert called the Board of Ed’s work this budget season in-depth and collaborative.
Walbert thanked “all the people in the town that work so hard and especially in the cycle that the town goes through an exhaustive scrubbing of all the departments and all the numbers to get to where we are.”
“It’s a privilege to be serving the town and to have the final say over the hard work that each of these departments have put in, it really is a privilege that members of the Town Council share that we really do appreciate your hard work.”