Somewhat begrudgingly, the Legislative Council Wednesday approved a $192.5 million budget that raises taxes by more than two mills but makes a heafty contribution to the town's pension fund.
"I don't think there's anyone at this table who wanted a two mill raise in taxes," said Councilwoman-at-Large Carol Noble. But it was necessary in order to continue to provide the services residents now receive which, she said, are among the best in the region.
The budget carries a 37.1370 mill rate, 2.3699 mills more than the current 34.7671 rate. That means that for every $1,000 of assessment, homeowners will pay about $37.14. Assessments are 70 percent of appraised fair market value. For the average home assessed at $175,000, the new tax bill will be $6,498.97, $414.73 more than the current $6,084.24 bill.
Only council members Austin Cesare and Betty Wetmore, both R-At Large, Colaiacovo, D-7 and Harry Gagliardi, D-2, voted against the budget. Wetmore said she could not vote for a budget that would have such a devastating affect on senior citizens on fixed incomes.
"I work with a lot of seniors and this is a very burden," she said. "This will be a very hard budget for them to swallow."
"This is going to kill a lot of people," Colaiacovo agreed.
The council went along with Mayor Scott Jackson's recommended $9.3 million contribution to the pension fund and added another $40,000 to it. The budget also has figured in an early retirement package earmarked to save $1.2 million. If that isn't achieved, layoffs are a possibility, town officials said.
"The mill rate is increasing primarily because of the pension fund," Councilwoman Kath Schomaker, D-5, said. "We are committed to solving the pension problem beginning with this budget."
While the contribution to the flailing fund is considerable, it's still $10 million less than the town's fiscal advisers recommended.
The council increased Jackson's $1 million allocation to the Emergency and Contingency Fund to $1.5 million, but said that didn't give departments license to spend.
"We want departments to stick to their budgets," Schomaker said, "unless there is a really good reason to change it."
"We are not going to satisfy everyone with this budget, and even among ourselves everything here is not the way all of us would like it, but we did the best we could," Councilman Ozzie Brown, D-3. "We did what we had to do, and if we didn't do it, it would have pushed us deeper and deeper."
Despite rumors that the council would look to the Board of Education budget for cuts, ultimately Jackson's $80.3 million allocation survived.