Guilford to look at budget again

Published: Thursday, April 23, 2009
By Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff

GUILFORD — The Board of Finance has scheduled a meeting for Monday to discuss the town budget after voters rejected a $77.12 million 2009-10 proposal at referendum this week.

Officials also announced Wednesday that the town will return to using five polling locations, after all voting took place at Fire Headquarters for the past two referendums.

The Board of Finance did not make any changes to the Board of Selectmen’s and Board of Education’s recommended budgets last month before sending the proposals to town meeting and referendum. With the budget failing by a vote of 2,727 to 2,262 Tuesday, the package will return to the finance board, which will make changes before sending the budget back to voters.

The proposed budget would have increased the tax rate by nearly 7 percent, to $20.51 per $1,000 of assessed value from the current rate of $19.19 per $1,000. The town had put forward a $27.28 million budget, while the school district’s portion accounted for $49.84 million.

The $77.12 million budget represented a 2.2 percent increase overall from the 2008-09 fiscal year, which ends June 30. Last year, voters approved a $75.5 million budget with a 5.72 percent rise from the 2007-08 budget.

Voter turnout nearly doubled this year, with 31 percent of voters participating, up from 17 percent in 2008.

In a press release Wednesday, First Selectman Carl Balestracci said that voting in future referenda will take place at all five polling locations, which were last used in the November presidential election. The move is in response to the high turnout, Balestracci said in the statement.

An election at the central polling location costs between $5,000 and $6,000, while one at all of the locations costs about $11,000 total, according to the Registrar of Voters’ office.

Balestracci said Tuesday night that he has been in discussions with the town unions about concessions, possibly including a wage freeze for the coming fiscal year. Balestracci said a wage freeze would save about $450,000 for the town and $1.2 million for the Board of Education.

Superintendent of Schools Thomas Forcella said the Board of Education has also had talks with the teachers’ union about concessions.

“I’m sure those conversations will continue now that there’s been this negative vote,” he said.

But Forcella added that he thinks layoffs are likely following the budget rejection. The nearly 3.5 percent increase over the current fiscal year in the school district’s proposed budget was made up of negotiated salary increases and special education tuition, Forcella said.

Selectwoman Cynthia Cartier said she hoped that the town could work with employees to avoid layoffs. She added that she had voted “with reservations” for the budget when the Board of Selectmen sent it to the Board of Finance, and she was not surprised that it failed.

“The 7 percent (projected increase in the tax rate) was just too much right now. It was too much to bear for people in our community losing their jobs,” Cartier said. “The other thing was the fact that people are concerned with 7 percent this year, what’s going to happen next year — 10, 15 percent?”

Resident Doug Newman said he voted against the budget because he felt the tax increase was “too much to ask the taxpayers to swallow in this economic climate.”

Marian Breeze, a resident who made phone calls and put up fliers in favor of passing the budget, said that she was disappointed with the results but understood voters’ concerns. She noted that voters approved $2.55 million in school improvements through bonding resolutions, while rejecting an appropriation of $810,000 for new fire and public works trucks.

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