$207M budget passed; no mill rate increase expected
WESTPORT — Taxes will remain flat after a $207,492,035 town budget for 2018-19 was unanimously approved by the Representative Town Meeting, Tuesday night.
The approved budget consists of a $116,173,000 school budget, an $80,179,853 municipal budget, and $11,139,182 in miscellaneous items including railroad parking and sewer funds.
“We think this (budget) is going to be sustainable to be a flat mill, which will be a fantastic result for the year, particularly given a lot of the economic challenges we face,” Board of Finance member Sheri Gordon said May 7 when she presented the board’s proposed budget to the RTM.
Despite the negative financial impact of obsolete state aid, Gordon said the total budget will enable the Board of Finance to keep the mill rate at 16.86, on par with the lowest mill rates in the state.
For a house assessed at $1 million, that homeowner will pay $16,866 in property taxes if the mill rate stays at 16.86, the same as last year, as Gordon said it would.
The education budget, at 62 percent of the total budget, represents a 1.57 percent increase over this year’s school budget, while the municipal budget is a 0.93 percent increase over the current year.
First Selectman Jim Marpe said Town Hall’s ability to keep the municipal budget under a 1 percent increase was achievable due to a decline in municipal employees since 2009, coupled with a 1.5 percent grand list increase and efficiency from programs such as a joint emergency dispatch system with Fairfield.
This year’s RTM meeting lacked the fanfare of last year’s, during which the RTM voted to restore a portion of school funding cut by the finance board. Still, despite this year’s lack of public outcry, the education budget went through substantial deliberation to get Superintendent Colleen Palmer’s original call for a 3.97 percent education budget increase down to the 1.57 percent increase that was ultimately approved.
Palmer said rising costs for state-mandated special education programs, school employee health care claims and a general increase in student needs contributed to her original call for a nearly 4 percent school budget increase. In April, the Board of Finance cut $2.05 million from the school budget, before restoring $1.3 million at the request of the Board of Education.
The Board of Education did not ask the RTM to restore the Board of Finance cuts to the school budget because an impending transfer of school employees to the state insurance plan is expected to save the schools $1 million. Other cost-savings initiatives, such as the potential cut of two elementary school teachers to satisfy declining enrollment, may also be in the works to keep the school’s within budget for next year, the Board of Education said at its last meeting.
The Board of Finance will meet May 16 to vote on next year’s mill rate.
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