Voters at that meeting approved the proposed 2012-13 town/school spending package for a total of $45,037,040, which includes the general government budget, the Mansfield Board of Education budget and the town’s Regional School District 19 contribution for Edwin O. Smith High School.
It is a 2 percent increase over the current budget.
The vote was 174 “yes” votes to 100 “no” votes. There are 10,255 registered voters in Mansfield.
It is still possible, however, that the budget will be put to another vote at a referendum, Town Manager Matt Hart said.
Hart said he was pleased with the outcome of the town meeting. “I believe folks support the objectives we’re trying to achieve here,” he said but added that he anticipates taxpayers will send the budget to a referendum, which has happened historically since the referendum option was added to the town charter in 2007.
This requires signatures from 2 percent of the registered voters in town. There are 10,255 registered voters in Mansfield, so 206 signatures would be required.
The petition must be filed in the town clerk’s office by May 29, which is 21 days after the Annual Town Meeting.
“I think it’s a very good budget,” said Mansfield Mayor Elizabeth “Betsy” Paterson.
Council member Bill Ryan, who chairs the council’s finance committee, said while putting the budget together, councilors acknowledged the impact it would have on taxpayers.
“What we’re trying to do is be sensible, be pragmatic and be conservative in the way we spend money,” he said.
Based on this budget, the mill rate in Mansfield increases 0.48 mills, from 26.68 to 27.16. For a home assessed at $200,000, this is an increase of $96.
However the town council will officially set the mill rate at its 7:30 p. m. meeting Monday, May 14 in the council chambers of the Audrey P. Beck Municipal Building, 4 South Eagleville Road (Route 275).
The general government budget is about $ 14,945,330, an increase of $1,115,580, or 8.1 percent.
This includes a $1,014,210 capital budget, representing a $538,210, or 113 percent, increase over the current spending plan.
Per the approval of residents, Mansfield will now pay for its capital projects using a “pay-as-you-go” model, which means projects are paid for as needs arise.
Currently, the town funds such projects over a few years.
It is a move town officials feel will result in long-term savings for taxpayers, better management of debt services and a potential improvement in the town’s bond rating.
Numerous expenses fuel the increase in the general government budget, including an increase of $538,210 from the general fund for capital projects and an increase of $132,970 for contracted salaries and wages.
Per the completion of a study evaluating the town’s police services, $70,080 was included in the budget for an additional resident trooper.
Over the course of five years, four troopers will be added to the town.
The fund balance was increased by $214,000, to $2,568,157, per the recommendation of Hart.
Currently, the town contributes only 5 percent of its operating budget to the fund balance, falling short of the 10 to 15 percent recommended by rating agencies.
The Mansfield Board of Education was able to keep its budget down to a zero percent increase, $20,588,160, because of reserve funds, including approximately $287,000 from its health insurance reserve fund.
Mansfield Board of Education Chair Mark Laplaca said the spending plan “maintains all current programs.”
“We feel it’s a responsible budget that accurately reflects the values of our community,” he said.
Some residents expressed concern at the use of reserve funds to offset the town and school budgets, including Councilor Meredith Lindsey and the two other Republicans on the council, Denise Keane and Christopher Paulhus.
The three voted against the town manager’s proposed budget, which the rest of the council, all Democrats, supported.
“We believe the town council should be imposing specific limits on spending and that our town staff is wise enough to know how to apply and live within those limits if required to do so,” said Lindsey, speaking on behalf of the minority party.
The total budget for the District 19 school board is $19,536,620, entailing a 3.1 percent increase.
Contributions to the District 19 budget are pro- rated based on the number of students sent from the three member towns, Mansfield, Ashford and Willington.
Under the proposal, Mansfield would pay $9,503,550, a decrease of $225,680, or 2.3 percent, from the current fiscal year.
Early in the meeting, residents were informed they would have the opportunity to amend program funds, but could not alter the bottom line for the budget or specific line items.
Resident Ric Hossack, who often asks the Town Council to cut spending said,“There are a number of areas which I personally feel could use a little trimming.”
However, he also suggested adding $454,000 to the parks and recreation budget in an effort to enable all Mansfield residents to be able to use the Mansfield Community Center for free.
Resident Martin Sommer agreed. “That is something that would benefit this community profoundly…We should all make use of the community center,” she said.
Much to Hossack’s chagrin, the amendment was shot down by a wide margin.
Hart said he didn’t think $454,000 would be a sufficient amount to accomplish Hossack’s goal. “It’s certainly a laudable goal,” Hart said.
Posted May 9, 2012 as edited by HTNP.com Editor Brenda Sullivan
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