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An imperfect town budget for imperfect times

Winsted’s annual town budget referendum will be held on Saturday, May 27, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. at The Pearson School.

The proposed budget for fiscal 2017–2018 is $33,438,506, which is an increase of $337,332 from the town’s fiscal 2016–2017 budget of $33,101,174.

If passed, the mill rate will remain the same as last year at 33.7.

If there were a theme song for this budget it would be The Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.” As the chorus in the song goes, “But if you try sometimes, well you might find you get what you need.”

This proposed budget is more about fulfilling, or in some cases partially fulfilling, the needs of the town rather than giving residents all they want.

If approved by voters on May 27, the town will spend $1,441,000 in road repairs, partially funded by state funding and leftover funds in the town’s General Fund balance.

In June 2016, Lenard Engineering Inc. completed a report on town road conditions that found that 53 percent of the town’s asphalt roads are in poor or failed condition, while 17 percent are in fair condition and 29 percent are in good or excellent condition. 

According to the company, at a $1 million per year funding level, the town would be able to roughly keep up with deterioration across the road network. Funding of $2 million would be required to improve the overall condition of the town’s road network over the next 10 years and reduce the costs of the backlog of road projects.

The proposed expenditure is short of the $2 million to improve the overall condition of the town’s roads. While it is a start, the town needs to keep in mind fully funding road repair projects before roads deteriorate even further.

Also in the budget is flat funding to the Winchester School District at $19,958,150, which is the state mandated Minimum Budget Requirement (MBR).

Back in February, Winchester School District Receiver Freeman Burr originally proposed a school district budget of $21,081,165 for fiscal 2017–2018, a $1,133,016 increase from the fiscal 2016–2017 school district budget of $19,948,149.

In a recent interview with The Winsted Journal, Burr said that he is OK with the school district budget being flat-funded once again at the MBR.

While it is frustrating to see, time and time again, the school district’s needs, along with the town’s needs, not being fully funded, it is understandable due to the current financial climate with the state and its budget.

In his proposed budget, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has included various town aid funding cuts along with an unfunded mandate that all cities and towns cover one-third of teachers’ pensions through the state’s Teachers’ Retirement System.

In the proposed budget, the town assumed a loss of $400,000 in state aid, but at a selectmen’s meeting on May 15 Finance Director Bruce Stratford said that Malloy is proposing to cut $100,000 more.

To top it off, for both fiscal 2017–2018 and fiscal 2018–2019, Malloy is proposing to reduce Education Cost Sharing (ECS) funds by $2,364,998 to $5,659,959.

There are still many unknowns when it comes to the state that towns and cities are all bracing for.

It may be possible that the state could cut town aid even further. At the May 8 annual town budget meeting, Town Manager Robert Geiger said that even he did not know what the state was up to.

While this is not the best proposed budget for Winsted, this is the best proposed budget in what is one of the worst financial times in the state’s history.

This proposed budget does not fully address all of the town’s wants, but it does address the town’s needs.

This is why we are asking residents to approve this budget on May 27.