The final proposed town and school budget that will go to voters in May is $92.117 million, representing a 4.1 tax increase. The mill rate will be 22.22, meaning someone with a home valued at $233,580 will pay an additional $205.55 in taxes.

After some philosophical debate about taxpayers' willingness to pay for education and town services, the board agreed to restore $750,000 of the $2.3 million the Town Council eliminated from the Board of Education's $59.1 million budget request. They also restored $4,300 to keep the library open between 1 and 5 p.m. Sundays.

"None of us are walking away 100 percent happy," finance board chairman Robert Sherry said. "But I think we reached a fair compromise."

When the board started deliberating, member Frank Wargo suggested restoring $1.4 million to the school district. Board member Larry Tripp recommended $500,000, member Shelly Pruss suggested $900,000 and then Gale Alexander offered $750,000.

The board settled on the $750,000, with taxpayers to cover $250,000 and surplus funds to cover the remainder.

In reaching the final dollar figure, an increase from the Town Council's proposed $91.3 million proposed town and school budget, Pruss said he believes even in this time of economic struggle for many families that education is critical for area residents.

Not only is it important for the students, but for property values, he noted. He said last year's budget was a strong victory.

"I think we underestimate the voters," said Pruss, who lamented his inability to restore more to the schools. "Education costs money, and a quality education costs more money."

But "not all the people shouldering this budget live in mega-mansions," Sherry said. Any tax increase will "mean something to a lot of people," he added.

"What is a fair amount?" Wargo asked.

For someone who just lost a job or has an ill family member, a five-cent increase is too much, Wargo said. On the other side of the coin are those who are more than comfortable financially. In between, "is the rest of New Milford."

The town cannot afford to cheapen the quality of education if children need to compete in a global economy, Wargo said, nor can it afford to mistreat its physical assets, like school buildings.

"How do we pay for it?" Sherry asked.

"I'll work nights," Wargo quipped.

As a homeowner and taxpayer, Alexander said, he understands people want to keep costs down. But it is incumbent on town leaders to be honest with the public about what it costs to educate students and offer the services they rely on in their everyday lives.

"I think this is fair and reasonable," Alexander said.

Contact Nanci Hutson at nhutson@newstimes.com or at (860) 354-2274.