Officials reject contingency account request

NAUGATUCK — The Joint Boards of Finance and Mayor and Burgesses last week rejected funding a contingency account for the Board of Education using surplus money from 2014-15 school budget.

Superintendent of Schools Sharon Locke came before borough officials Nov. 23 to request $609,000 of the surplus be used to establish the contingency account.

“I think it’s fiscally responsible to have a contingency account,” Locke said. “A lot of times you need to go to your contingency for unanticipated costs.”

State law allows school boards to create an account to save up to 1 percent of its total budget.

The 2014-15 school budget was $60.9 million, which means the board could put up to $609,000 into the account.

Locke said the board ended the 2014-15 fiscal year with a $959,000 surplus. The bulk of the surplus, $580,601, came from a savings in health insurance due to early retirements in the 2013-14 school year, the transfer of retired teachers to the Stirling Insurance plan and a reduction in special education tuition expenses.

Locke said the contingency account could be used for unexpected expenses such as a hiring additional staff when there is a surge in enrollment and repairs needed at the schools

“Knowing that we have an obligation to keep our facilities to a certain standard, it’s nice to know we would have contingency money if we need it,” Locke said.

However, a majority of the members of the joint boards were against the idea.

“I’m against it. I think when we have a surplus from anywhere in the town it should go back to the general fund, quite honestly. Six hundred thousand dollars represents almost 0.4 mills of relief to the taxpayers. I think that should be going back to the general fund and supporting our tax payers,” Deputy Mayor Robert Neth said.

The joint boards made four motions to fund the account with varying amounts of the surplus, from $125,000 to the full $609,000. Each motion was voted down nine to seven.

Finance Board member Andrew Bottinick felt funding a contingency account for the school board bypassed what the joint boards is set up to do.

“The problem I have is that it is our responsibility to control the money. That’s what we were purposed for. While you guys have done a great job in my short time on the finance board with transparency, it’s still our job. I think if you make a reasonable request for the money, we’ll do it,” Bottinick said. “I think it’s our responsibility, as the Board of Finance, to make those decisions. I don’t see us delegating that to any other department.”

Finance Board member Dan Sheridan echoed Bottinick’s comments, saying borough officials need to think of the impact on taxpayers.

“I vehemently oppose this. I think it is a really bad idea,” Sheridan said. “It’s the joint boards’ responsibility to allocate funds to the Board of Education based on the Board of Education’s good faith budget request. The money allocated is taxpayer money and does not belong to the Board of Education. I think we need to focus on the taxpayers here and who owns that money.”

Locke acknowledged that the final decision comes down to the joint boards. She said it’s more important to have a good relationship with the borough than to have the reserve account.

“The legislation was set up to allow boards of educations to do this so that in a rainy day there is a reserve account. But really, that entire $959,000 is now the borough’s money and you guys get to decide what to do with that,” Locke said. “It’s more important for us to have good relations with you and to have you trust we are spending your money and the taxpayers’ money responsibly than this reserve account.”

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