NAUGATUCK — After a series of workshops and a significant reduction in the school budget request, the Board of Finance has approved a budget recommendation of roughly $125.1 million for the 2019-20 fiscal year.
The proposed budget increases spending by $3.19 million, or 2.61 percent, over this fiscal year’s budget.
Board of Finance Chairman Dan Sheridan said if everything remains as is, including projected state funding, borough officials will be able to reduce the tax rate slightly.
School spending makes up about half of the overall budget. Under the proposal, the Board of Education’s budget is $62.2 million, which is an increase of $200,000, or 0.3 percent. The school budget is about $2 million less than the request the Board of Education presented to the finance board.
To reduce the school budget request, the finance board moved a $1.1 million debt payment into the municipal budget. The change has no impact on the overall bottom line, but allows borough officials to avoid setting a higher minimum budget requirement for school spending. State law requires municipalities to spend at least as much on education from one year to the next, with a few exceptions.
Sheridan said the Board of Finance also removed $500,000 from the request because a special education grant equaled to that amount that used to go to the borough will now go directly to the Board of Education.
The board additionally reduced the increase about $400,000 because it felt there’s room for more reductions, Sheridan said.
Superintendent of Schools Sharon Locke said she was shocked to hear how much the Board of Finance reduced the Board of Education’s request. She said school officials will have to scramble to see where to reduce the proposal and it may have an impact on class sizes and programs the district wants to offer.
Locke said she is grateful the borough chose to take on the debt payment, but it won’t help much since the Board of Finance reduced the requested budget so drastically.
“It doesn’t help solve how I am going to bridge the gap,” Locke said.
The proposed municipal budget is $62.96 million, an increase of approximately $3 million, or 4.99 percent.
The increase is due in part to the $1.1 million debt payment taken on from the school budget. Other large increases include $357,627 more for the police department, an additional $148,900 for the fire department, and $276,151 more for the water pollution control board budget.
The budget is scheduled to go to the Joint Boards of Mayor and Burgesses and Finance for review and approval on April 22. The budget will go to a hearing in May.
Locke said she hopes the joint boards will look more favorably on the Board of Education budget and restore some funds.
“I hope the joint boards will hear from our parents and community about how much they want the town to support the schools,” Locke said.
Sheridan said he expects people will be receptive to the budget proposal.
“Overall, it shouldn’t be a problem because it is a fairly responsible budget,” Sheridan said.