Weston finance board signals support for flat mill rate

Weston Town Hall at 56 Norfield Road in Weston.

Weston Town Hall at 56 Norfield Road in Weston.

Town of Weston Twitter

WESTON — The Board of Finance signaled support for setting a flat mill rate for next year to help ease the financial impacts residents may face because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“I would like a flat mill rate,” BOF Chair Steve Ezzes said at a finance board meeting on Thursday. “I would like to get to it as close as we could get and I would like to do it creatively.”

The finance board currently has budgeted a 1.39 percent mill rate increase. Town administrator Johnathan Luiz said to achieve a flat mill rate, the board would have to cut $1 million total from the town’s budget.

BOF member discussed a variety of methods to reach a flat mill rate including deferring some capital expenditures, pulling from the town’s reserves and finding more savings in operating expenses.

But schools Superintendent William Mckersie cautioned the board about the impact extra cuts on the $54 million schools budget may have on the classroom.

“Everything left to cut is classroom impact and, in a distance learning mode, you will not have the kind of education you need and want in this district,” Mckersie said.

He said the district’s staff was a large part of the smooth transition into distance learning, which may continue.

“Weston is out in front in this issue and we’re out there because (of) the staff we have and support we have,” Mckersie said.

BOE Chair Tony Pesco said $551,000 in net cost savings is expected so far because of the district’s closure. He added he supported a discussion on the direction of the schools budget in the fall, not now.

“What we’ve done this year is really try to maintain the quality of the schools that everyone expects,” Pesco said. “This is a 12-month issue. We still have to have the conversation of the quality and education that Weston is willing to have moving forward.”

First Selectman Chris Spaulding also voiced concern for further budget cuts to his proposed $13.7 million budget.

“We’ve dug as deep as we can,” Spaulding said. “Right now, we are going further into staff with any cuts and there’s none I could recommend at this point.”

But some finance board members said they received an outpouring of emails from residents supporting a flat mill rate because of the pandemic.

“I’ve never seen anything like this in terms of the very sincere and very difficult economic circumstances many people find themselves in,” BOF member Allan Grauberd said.

BOF member Greg Murphy echoed his sentiments.

“I’ve talked to many, many people and I would surmise that at least half of the people in town want a zero percent mill rate increase and a flat budget,” Murphy said. “I would only support any agreement here that leads to a zero percent mill rate increase.”

BOF member Amy Gare said she supported keeping the mill rate increase of 1.39 percent due to the impact on staff with further cuts.

“I think it would be cutting off our noses to spite our faces to cut right now the essential workers of this town,” Gare said. “Teachers are working overtime... I think we are at war and I wouldn’t send my soldiers out to war without their necessary armor.”

She said the first quarter of housing sales was also the best there had been since 2013.

“Our houses are priced to sell and we should be here for all those looking for wide open spaces and schools,” Gare said.

Ezzes said he favored spending a week to come up with feasible methods to reach a flat mill rate. He added he was concerned for the town’s financial future.

“I think this pandemic is going to get worse and we’re underestimating the future expense of it,” Ezzes said. “We’re not going back to any sense of normality for a year and it could be longer.”

The finance board will meet again on May 21 and is expected to finalize the budget on June 1.