As was mentioned in our last blog post, we want to again thank all the residents and visitors to our village for rigorously following the emergency declarations of our Governor by staying at home, wearing masks, social distancing and all the other things that keep us safe and healthy. We can see signs that the Covid-19 infections are starting to plateau, especially in the hardest hit areas of our state.
We have been particularly fortunate to date in that we have no reported cases in our village. Note the underlining because there may be many of us who have had the virus but have been virtually symptom free. We emphasize that this is the time we must continue to be vigilant and follow carefully the guidelines for preventing infection so that we can return to some normality in the months to come.
Despite this, the government of the town must continue to function and it has, although in ways that were unimaginable prior to the epidemic. Our Town Hall remains closed to visitors, excepting those who must do vital activities. Meetings are being done remotely, using Zoom in our case. Little did we know that we were going to have to become technology masters overnight.
The biggest item facing us now is finalizing the budget. One of the issues facing our particular village is that our percentage of students in the Region One school district has risen tremendously in the past two years from 7.69% to 12.87%. This has raised the cost of Region One by $557,334, an increase of 73.7%! The Region One budget isn’t increasing by much but our share of it is.
This puts enormous pressure on our budgeting making process, especially given the pandemic that is affecting us locally, nationally and globally. Our goal this year is to not increase taxes in this economically challenging time. Fortunately, we have always been frugal in our management of town finances which has allowed us to keep our general fund balances prudently high. These are funds that are held by the town in excess of year-to-year expenditures.
Consequently, the Board of Selectmen have proposed a spending plan that will reduce our expenditures by over $100,000 this year, a decrease of over 5%. This is being done by tightening our belts in all departments and, in an unprecedented move, not funding capital reserves in this year, and asking that all departments monitor their expenditures closely as the 2020-2021 budget year unfolds.
Even given these cutbacks, we will have to draw down our general fund substantially during the next fiscal year. This will not be sustainable in the long run but we, as your Selectmen, feel this is critical to do given the crisis we are now undergoing. Further, we are anticipating that this surge we have seen in our Region One percentage of students will start to ease a bit in the fiscal year 2021-2022.
The budget processes continue but will be done by different means than those we have used in the past. By Emergency Declaration 7S, modified by Emergency Declaration 7CC, the Governor has allowed the budget decisions to made finally by the Board of Selectmen instead of a Town Meeting. Consequently, our plan is to finalize budget recommendations by the Board of Finance by the end of this month and publish these final budgets on our website by May 1, 2020. We ask that residents respond to us by message or e-mail with any questions or concerns that they may have in the next two-week period to us. We will then hold a meeting, by Zoom, to answer these questions and others that you might have. If it then becomes impossible to hold a Town Meeting because of social distancing, the decision on adopting the budget would revert to the Board of Selectmen. We also would have the authority to approve any routine matters that would normally be handled at the Town Meeting such as appointing banks and making transfers from reserves to pay for capital expenses.
There are three transfers from capital reserves we are contemplating. The first is the replacement of a truck for the public works department which has been recommended by the Board of Finance. The second is a transfer form the bridge reserve to do a study of the cost of repairing bridges within the town which has been also been recommended by the Board of Finance. The third is the purchase of a fire truck for the Falls Village Volunteer Fire Department which will be requested by the Board of Selectmen for Board of Finance recommendation. The normal town process is that the Board of Selectmen make a request to the Board of Finance which then either does or does not make a recommendation to Town Meeting for approval.
The truck we are replacing for the public works is over 23 years old. It will be replaced by a new truck for a cost of $188,741.23 of which $41276.73 will be provided by the state as part of the Volkswagen settlement. The net cost is $147,464.50 to the Town of Canaan. The bridge study is necessary because of the fact that we have several bridges in the town that need some repairs. We are contracting with Cardinal Engineering to do complete inspections of those bridges at a cost of $13,750 to inspect those bridges that the state has designated as needing some repairs to identify both the remediation necessary and to give us sound estimates on the costs of doing so. This will enable us to prepare a long-term plan on extending the life-span of these bridges. The used fire truck that the FVVFD has purchased for the amount of $125,000 came from Iowa and is in excellent shape. There will be additional expenses that will be entailed such as the cost of sending FVVFD staff to Iowa to inspect the truck, cartage from Iowa to here. making some changes in the truck itself to bring it inline with Connecticut regulations and do the annual inspection. In all, we estimate that this will cost about $170,000 all-in versus purchasing a new one for $350,000. It will replace two vehicles which we currently have that are quite old and were reaching the point that they could not pass inspection.
There is an old Chinese adage that says “May you live in interesting times.” We are all doing that now. We are on the phone 24/7, listening to FEMA briefings, those from the governor, taking webinars explaining all the ins and outs of the various Emergency Declarations that have been made, attending to the affairs of the town, etc. In the end, all any of us can do to protect ourselves and others is to wash our hands, wear masks in public, stay at home as much as possible and make the best of it we can. Please do your best you to help your neighbors, check in on those who you suspect could use some help, especially the elderly who might need someone to shop for them or just to hear a friendly voice on the phone. And don’t hesitate to call us if you have any issues that need attention. It’s not an imposition, it’s our job.