WESTON — The Board of Finance unanimously voted to approve a flat mill rate of 32.37 without additional cuts to the Board of Education or town operating budgets.

The BOF also voted 4-3 to approve a town budget of $13,710,999 and school budget of $54,161,443, and using the current fiscal year’s surplus of $664,810 to reach the flat mill rate.

BOF members Richard Bochinski, Jeff Farr and Greg Murphy voted against the motion with the view there should be additional reductions to the total operating budget to use less of the surplus.

But BOF member Rone Baldwin said it was important to position the town for the upcoming year due to the unpredictable challenges that may come.

“I think it’s critical we come out of this budget process with a sense of unity among the Board of Finance, Board of Education, and Board of Selectmen to navigate those challenges with a common set of goals,” Baldwin said at the meeting on June 4.

A $116,000 installment for the multi-year project to replace the bridge on Michaels Way, $50,000 in improvements at Onion Barn and $40,000 to replace a Public Works truck were deferred to next year to achieve the flat mill rate.

The BOF members all agreed it was important to reach the flat mill rate given the economic challenges people are facing in town, but there was debate in how to reach it.

Farr said he favored taking more deductions from the town and school operating budgets to reach the flat mill rate.

“My rationale for doing so starts with a number of reasons,” he said. “One is the continued decrease of our home values in town.”

Farr said the unemployment rate in town coupled with over 80 homes reportedly in pre-foreclosure or in foreclosure could also impact tax collections this year. He said he didn’t favor using the savings found this year to reach the flat mill rate.

Murphy echoed his sentiments.

“My position is we need to at least make the reductions necessary to get us to a flat mill rate and take the remaining reductions necessary to achieve it from the Board of Education and town operating budgets,” Murphy said.

But Baldwin cautioned against the cuts due to future uncertainties with reopening the schools. He said he was concerned cuts made today could require special appropriation requests in the near future.

“I think that particularly if it’s our budget and not the budget that they are recommending then I think we are back on our heels on all of these things,” he said.

Baldwin said the town and BOE should make trade-offs in their budgets to fund COVID-19 related issues instead of asking for special appropriations.

“I think the town is going to be better off financially if we accept the Board of Education budget as is and have the discipline to say Board of Ed., you have to self-fund COVID expenditures,” he said.

dj.simmons@hearstmediact.com