New Milford finance board cuts budget yet again

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NEW MILFORD — The Board of Finance, in a series of budget amendments adopted Thursday night, rejected Mayor David Gronbach’s plan to offset a $1.5 million revenue miscalculation with measures including the sale of town properties.

Instead, the board cut $968,000 from the town budget and $532,000 from the schools budget. The overall budget now stands at nearly $101 million, with $62.8 million for the schools and $38.2 million for the town. The new proposal goes to voters in a referendum next month.

After Town Council approved the mayor’s original budget proposal last month, the administration discovered that $1.5 million in revenue had been double-counted. The mayor proposed to make up the difference by selling $1.2 million of town-owned properties, pulling $60,000 from interest income and increasing Sewer Commission payments to the town by $314,000.

Finance board member Joseph DeGregorio said that plan was unrealistic.

“I don’t want to cut $500,000 from personnel and I don’t want to cut $500,000 from the schools,” DeGregorio said. “But we are uncomfortable using the prospective sale of property as revenue until it happens.”

Gronbach said the finance board moves, including a $550,000 cut in personnel, will be difficult to carry out.

“Cutting personnel by $550,000 is not an investment in New Milford,” he said. “Personnel is one of the greatest assets.”

Schools Superintendent Joshua Smith said he was disappointed with Thursday’s cut,saying the school board had worked hard to create a “transparent and fiscally responsible” budget, which has now been cut by $755,000 since it was presented to the town.

Smith said he still hopes the budget passes at referendum.

”We’ll struggle to find a way to find that money,” he said. “That’s more than 1 percent less than what we asked for. That’s not easy.”

The finance board’s votes to amend the budget generally followed party lines. Three Republicans voted for the amendments, as did DeGregorio, a member of the Green Party. Voting against was Democrat Barbara Wolf.

Board Chairman Gale Alexander, a Democrat, abstained, but said he, too, was concerned about cutting services.

The plan to raise money by the property sales had been adopted by the Town Council, also on party lines, with five Democrats supporting it and four Republicans opposing.

Republican council members said they opposed the plan because the town shouldn’t budget with revenue it didn’t have yet or use one-time sales to cover ongoing expenses. They also questioned the sewer commission’s ability to pay their current payments to the town, let alone additional money.

DeGregorio echoed Republican Town Council members in supporting his board’s decision, adding that uncertainty around property sales motivated the board’s ruling.

Gronbach said he would like to see a long-term plan from the Republicans about how to address the town’s fiscal future.

“This isn’t leadership if they think they can cut their way to prosperity,” Gronbach said.

[Source:- News Times]