Guilford selectmen OK $27 million town budget

Published: Tuesday, February 10, 2009
By Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff

GUILFORD — The Board of Selectmen voted Monday to forward a $27.28 million 2009-10 budget for town operations to the Board of Finance.

The budget maintains a flat level of funding from the 2008-09 budget. But Finance Director Sheila Villano said she is still expecting the tax rate to rise, as revenues are projected to decrease.

Selectmen said Monday night they cut $1.4 million from the budget requests town department heads submitted earlier this year. Several also expressed concern that the budget proposal would defer necessary expenses to future years.

Villano said she had cut about $880,000 in capital expenditures — including items like replacing emergency and social services vehicles — from the budget. A request for four half-year firefighter positions was also removed, which Selectwoman Veronica Wallace said worried her.

“I think this is dangerous and I would almost have preferred that we at least cut two or keep two at least to move the department forward,” Wallace said. “I’m concerned that we’re taking a chance with safety.”

First Selectman Carl Balestracci said the need to keep taxes down as much as possible necessitated the cuts.

“We know that it’s a calculated risk, we know that this is not good budgeting … but these are extraordinary times and this is what we have to do,” Balestracci said.

Selectman Joseph Mazza added: “Revenue is down $2.4 million, plus we want to start building up a fund balance, so this has got to be the year where you bite the bullet.”

The Board of Selectmen recently instituted a policy of adding money back to the fund balance in the hopes of improving the town’s credit rating.

Selectwoman Cynthia Cartier said she thought the town should look at items like wage freezes or worker furloughs to save further funds.

“I feel like a lot of this could have been avoided with some efficiency over time,” Cartier said. “I think we’re being faced with challenging times and this is step one.”

But Balestracci disagreed, saying that national and state conditions had contributed to the economic crisis. “This is an economic situation that we couldn’t have planned for,” he said. “This isn’t any poor planning on the part of Guilford.”

The Board of Education is proposing a $49.84 million budget that includes a 3.46 percent increase over the 2008-09 budget, Superintendent of Schools Thomas Forcella said Monday. Both the Board of Selectmen and Board of Education are scheduled to present their budget proposals to the Board of Finance on Thursday.

Combined, the town and school district budgets would amount to $77.12 million and represent an approximately 2.2 percent increase over the 2008-09 budget. By comparison, the budget increased 5.72 percent between the 2007-08 and 2008-09 fiscal years.

Selectman Salvatore Catardi said he thought the school district’s budget could be reduced more, which the Board of Finance may do at its meeting Thursday. Catardi added that he was glad the town was able to approve a budget with no increase. “I never, ever expected we’d be where we are today with a zero percent increase,” he said. “I think this is fantastic that we could get this far.”

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