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North Canaan voters say ‘no’ to budget plan

With 49 votes in favor and 67 votes against it, the North Canaan town budget did not pass. 

“I think most people knew how they were going to vote before they showed up,” said Board Of Finance Chair Nancy O’Connor. “It’s unfortunate.” 

The budget town meeting was held on June 7 at Town Hall; 116 people attended.

Of all the Northwest Corner towns, North Canaan has been hit the hardest this year by the threat of drastic reductions in state aid (the state budget still has not been approved). Most towns in the region get only modest aid; North Canaan gets substantial aid, in the millions, especially in the form of education grants.  In this fiscal year, for example, the town was to receive more than $2 million in education grants.  Salisbury, in contrast, was to receive $60,000; Sharon was to get $42,000; Kent was to get $51,000.

With those reductions in grant money, the North Canaan boards of finance and selectmen were already estimating that taxes would have to increase in the coming year by 4 mills over the current 27.5 mill rate. 

At the meeting, it was announced that the  state of Connecticut has cut $1.4 million from grants the town of North Canaan was expected to receive. 

To make up for this cut, the proposed budget would have required an increase in the tax rate of 4 mills; and $100,000 was to be taken out of the town’s general fund.  

The increase of 4 mills does not include teacher pensions which could result in an additional 1.25 mills. The state has not yet made the decision whether or not the towns will be responsible for this cost. 

After extensive discussion at the meeting Tuesday, a motion to vote for the budget by a show of hands was passed. That motion was later rescinded when another motion to vote by paper ballot was made, which then passed. The majority voted “no” by paper ballot and the verdict was announced by the elected moderator, George Wheeler. 

The budget totals were reviewed by O’Connor. Income projections for the coming year stand at $10,202,589. Expense projections, after diligent examination by the selectmen and the Board of Education, total $11,581,412, a difference of $1,378,823. 

As proposed and defeated, the selectmen’s budget remained the same as at the current year’s level; the education budget, totaling $4,425,872, carried an increase of $128,674, or 2.9 percent. Most education increases cover salary increases (which are mandated in staff contracts) and increased health care costs.

Resident state trooper vote

Before the budget was voted on, there was discussion about three expenditures that might or might not be included in the budget. The renewal of the lease to the North Canaan-Canaan Little League, Inc. for the sum of $1 for the parcel of land located upon school property passed unanimously. 

First Selectman Doug Humes gave State Police Troop B Commanding Officer Lieutenant William Baldwin the floor to address the renewal of the contract with the state to hire a resident state trooper at an annual cost of $173,074.45. 

The only towns in the region to have resident state trooper program are Salisbury, Kent and North Canaan. All three towns have felt that the additional coverage provided by the dedicated officer is helpful; however, the state used to share the cost of the program and is now putting the burden on the towns. 

Despite the increased cost, the voters passed the resolution to continue the program. However, first several community members voiced concerns and opinions. Baldwin invited townspeople to pick up the phone or come to the Troop B barracks if they are dissatisfied with the service being provided. 

“I need to know that,” he urged.

The ordinance for the town clerk to receive a salary of $35,000 instead of collecting a portion of fees and other compensation, as provided for in the general statutes, was also passed.

Reacting to residents’ opposition to the budget expenditures and the proposed 4 mill increase of mostly mandated and unavoidable expenses, O’Connor and other finance board members noted that many open budget meetings were held since March, but few or no residents were present to provide comment along the way.  

The proposed town budget now goes back to the finance board. O’Connor called a special Board of Finance meeting for Wednesday, June 14, at 7:30 p.m. at Town Hall. All residents are invited and encouraged to attend.