The Common Council Friday night approved a budget that pleased supporters of the schools, and calls for a 2.1% increase in property taxes. This was made possible by a special appropriation to the city in the budget bill passed by the State Legislature and expected to be signed by the Governor.
A last-minute reprieve from a dire State budget
Facing a significant mismatch between revenues and expenditures, the governor and Democratic state legislators negotiated a budget that included significant cuts in state aid to cities and towns, some more than others. The CT Mirror news site said "The biggest loser in the budget deal is Middletown ... that stands to receive $3.1 million less than this fiscal year."
Such a cut would have led to devastating cuts to city and schools, or very significant tax increases, or both. Councilman Rob Blanchard admitted, "We all said a prayer to Saint Sebastian."
But it was two mortals who intervened instead, State Senator Paul Doyle, and State Representative Joe Serra, the two senior members of the Middletown delegation at the Capitol.
Doyle and Serra successfully inserted a provision in the state budget implementer bill to provide special funding for our city. These kinds of special provisions inserted into large bills at the close of a legislative session are common, and are often difficult to track. The extra money may be earmarked to fund something that otherwise the city would be paying; one of the changes to the mayor's budget was entitled "STATE REIMB MHS DEBT SERVICE $2,103,785".
Schools to receive $2.164M increase
The Council budget provides $1.46M more in funding to the schools than the mayor had proposed. Although this does not fully fund the request of the Board of Education, parents, teachers, Board of Education members, and Superintendent Pat Charles said they were happy with the Council's appropriation. Chris Drake, Chair of the Board of Education Budget Committee, said, "Dr. Charles and I have looked at it and it appears we will be able to adjust with no layoffs of teachers or custodians ... this is a budget that is good and fair."
Dr. Charles pointed to a silver lining to the clouds of financial hardship, expressing her gratitude to the Council members for their "conversations about how we can work together collaboratively."
Mill rate to rise to 33.3
The mayor proposed to fund his budget with a mill rate increase from 32.6 to 33.1. With the extra state money, and expanded support for public education, the Council budget increases the mill rate to 33.3. Councilman Tom Serra pointed out that the increase of 0.7 meant that a house worth $100,000 would pay an extra $70 per year, and a house worth $200,000 an extra $140 per year. He said that this was reasonable, considering the varied and excellent services that residents receive from the city.
Council approves budget unanimously
Eight of the twelve Council members spoke on the proposed budget. Each of them lavished praise and gratitude on Doyle and Serra, as well as on Finance Director Carl Erlacher, Assistant Director of Finance Diana Doyle (Paul's wife), and Mayor's office budget analyst Tina Gomes, who helped secure the extra money from the state. Gerry Daley called it "an extraordinary achievement."
Most of the Council members also emphasized their support for education. Tom Serra said, "This council has supported education ... We're well aware of what the needs of our schools are, but we're well aware of our citizen's needs [as well]." Phil Pessina said, "I truly believe in my heart of hearts that we care about education."
Mary Bartolotta thanked the schools administration for working closely with the Council. She expressed her regret over voting for a tax increase, "I apologize for the tax increase."
Rob Blanchard expressed his gratitude to all those who came to Council meetings to advocate for the schools, instead of being at home with their families, "Thank you to the parents."
The Council approved the budget unanimously.