As usual, there has been a lot going on in the village in the past few weeks. Most importantly, we have completed all the budgets for the year and held our initial hearing last Friday night at Kellogg School. Our Town Meeting will be held at Kellogg School on May 23rd at 7PM to approve the budgets proposed by the Board of Finance. To recap, our Municipal Budget shows a reduction of $7,868.08. While town expenses were up marginally by 2.33%, this was offset by a reduction in debt service interest and principal payments.
On the school budget, this was up substantially. The main cost increases were caused by additional staff members subscribing to our health insurance, an increase in labor costs due to contractual obligations and, most importantly, a large change in the percentage of the high school budget which is based on the percentage of the school population coming from Falls Village. Because we had our largest graduating group of eighth graders in 2018, this percentage jumped from a little over 7% to over 10%. The final proposed budget shows a total increase of $371,641 for a total proposed budget of $3,433,670. The increase in the proposed budget is made up of a $92,655 increase in Kellogg expenditures and $278,986 for Region One which combine to come to the total increase mentioned above.
There will be a Special Meeting of the Board of Finance to officially recommend final numbers for presentation to the Town Meeting for approval and it is tentatively scheduled for May 6, 2010 at Town Hall at 6:30 PM.
Other than the approval of the proposed budgets at Town Meeting, we will be asking for approval of several other items which are:
1. An approval for transferring funds from the Lee H. Kellogg technology reserve account #1703228155 for $30,522.91 for various items that need to be replaced every 3 to 5 years.
2. An approval for transferring funds from the Environmental Reserve account #51001426 in the amount of approximately $8500 for the removal of an underground fuel oil storage tank at Lee H. Kellogg school.
3. An approval of the bank relationships we foresee for the calendar year 2019-2020. This has been done retroactively in the past and we will do this in advance this year.
Item number two above completes the removal of the last underground storage unit on town property.
During April, through the offices of the Northwest Hills Council of Government, we have met with Governor Lamont, representatives of our local area at the state level and with our U.S Congresswoman Jahanna Hayes. Each of these is discussed individually below.
The meeting with Governor Lamont centered on 5 local issues which the Northwest Hill Council of Governments felt were critical to the well-being of our area as follows:
1. Help Our Towns Control Local Tax Increases. The principal points here were that reducing state aid to towns is effectively just a tax shift from state taxation to local property tax holders. Specifically, proposals like SB (state bill) 431, “An Act Concerning Property Tax Reform” would have a devastating effect on local communities. Also, we again opposed any transfer of a portion of teacher’s pensions to municipalities.
2. We support voluntary regionalism and emphasized that we, in our region, have already moved to do this when practically possible, noting several instances in this regard. We also asked that the cutbacks proposed for COG’s throughout the state were in direct conflict with this and were counter-productive in accomplishing Governor Lamont’s goal of greater regional cooperation.
3. That we were very supportive of Broadband Development in the Region and the State. Specifically, we wanted his support for SB 846 ”An Act Concerning the Municipal Gain….”. As many of you know, PURA, the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority took this right away due to pressure from the current suppliers of internet despite the state law giving us this right. Installing a fiber optic network throughout the COG region is one of the most important initiatives in the Economic Development Plan endorsed by the Northwest Hills Council of Government.
4. Consideration of Additional Bond Fund Releases for Critical Ongoing Projects. I talked specifically on this point because the bond funding was reduced from $300 million to zero for public housing projects. Because we desire to continue the work the Falls Village Housing Trust is doing to construct some first class housing units that would attract younger people to our town, we consider this a critical part of our development efforts. Having affordable rental units in town as transitional housing for young people until they can save for a house purchase keeps our town growing. It provides for volunteers from this age group to hopefully staff up our fire and ambulance staff as well as provide increasing enrollment in our great school.
5. Help Protect Towns from Various Education Proposals. We expressed concerns regarding the accelerated reduction in Education Cost Sharing funding as well as asking for adjustments in the Minimum Budgeting Requirement to allow local governments greater flexibility. We again outlined our opposition to forced regionalization of our schools.
While I have little idea if these ideas fell on deaf ears or not, I do give the Governor credit for meeting with us as a group and listening to our concerns. I firmly believe that passing costs to local government from the state does nothing to curb costs and is just a way of transferring expenditures to a different taxing entity. We need meaningful cost reduction in the state, not gimmicks.
The local state representative meeting was specifically about point 4 above and they were very supportive of our position.
Finally, our meeting with Congresswoman Hayes was very helpful and productive.
All in all, these meetings are very important in ensuring that our concerns as local leaders are heard. Having them under the aegis of our COG gives us a chance to collectively advocate for our little corner of the world which, especially in Hartford, gets little attention.
Over the last few months, we have been working on a project to ensure that everyone in the town pays for the use of the transfer station. During the last few years, payments for transfer station stickers have fallen dramatically. As of last year, slightly over 40% of residents paid the fee. Consequently, we have decided to add this fee directly to the first property tax bill we pay every year. It will be delineated separately as a user fee. After the tax payment is made, you will be mailed your annual tag. Since seniors pay less, we have gone through the list carefully to ensure that the proper fees are being assessed. If yours happen to be in error, let us know so we can adjust it. Those who own rental units will have to buy one for each unit and issue the stickers to their tenants once they have paid their property tax bills. Charges for the transfer station will not increase from their current level. Please note that our fees are among the very lowest in the entire state. Also, we have gone to single streaming for our recyclables and want you to know how important recycling is to our community. It costs us $83 a ton to dispose of our garbage and $0 a ton to dispose of recyclables. We ask that you keep this in mind when sorting.