Funding, insurance updates may reduce tax increase below 3%

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Melissa Garrity took this photo of the gazebo in front of Monroe Town Hall.

Editor’s Note: The following is a letter from First Selectman Ken Kellogg.

To the Editor:

Earlier this week, I presented my proposed FY21-22 budget to Town Council. Once again, this year’s proposed budget was developed with the overarching goals of controlling taxes while improving our roads and infrastructure, delivering cost-effective services to our community, providing excellence in education, and maintaining the financial health of the Town.

I continue to implement deliberate practices to minimize the tax burden through conservative spending and fostering growth in our grand list. My budget proposes a municipal spending increase of 2.16%, which maintains services, meets our contractual obligations and ongoing increases in the costs of medical insurance, as well as the state police pension plan.

Furthermore, this budget includes an investment in economic development to increase our commercial grand list, so as to reduce the future tax burden on our families.

The most challenging aspect of Monroe’s budget continues to be the Board of Education (“BOE”) appropriation, which comprises over 2/3 of the entire Town budget. The BOE has submitted a budget request representing a 5.85% increase over the current fiscal year.

While the importance of our robust educational system cannot be understated, we must continue to seek ways to balance this with our taxpayers’ ability to pay, including the many residents who cannot afford runaway taxes. My budget incorporates $132,000 in reductions to the BOE increase based upon new information and in consultation with the Superintendent of Schools.

Furthermore, in response to the pandemic emergency, last year’s final budget, as approved by the Board of Finance, appropriated significant fund balance to avoid any tax increase.

While I fully supported that effort, the Board of Finance also recognized that this action would create additional taxpayer pressure in FY21-22. It does not appear that we will need to utilize the full appropriation during the current year. My budget therefore proposes a reduced, but responsible, use of fund balance again in FY21-22 as we transition out of the public health emergency.

My responsibility is to present a budget that Monroe voters can trust to be fair, and one that I believe taxpayers will accept at referendum. Without our growth in the grand list, reductions in spending, and use of alternative funding, taxes would grow at an alarming rate of over 9%.

Of the total increase in expenditures, 84% is attributed to education and 16% to municipal costs. This budget projects a tax rate increase of 3.31%, which would result in a 4-year average of less than 1% per year.

My budget was delivered to Town Council on February 8, 2021 as required by Town Charter. Since Monday, we have received two pieces of encouraging news. First, the Governor’s proposed state budget suspends a previously scheduled reduction in state aid from the Education Cost Sharing grant. Second, we received new estimates for health care insurance rate increases, which are more favorable than what we had originally received.

I am very hopeful that these two significant items alone can further reduce the projected tax increase to under 3%. I am ready to work closely with our Town Council and Board of Finance as they conduct their review of the budget, and to incorporate further refinements such as these, so we can present a final budget that Monroe voters can support at referendum on May 4th.

The Town Council will conduct their Public Hearing on the budget on Thursday, February 18, 2021 at 7 p.m. Instructions for remote participation will be posted on the agenda on the Town website. All of the FY21-22 budget documents are available at www.MonroeCT.org/budget.

Kenneth M. Kellogg

First Selectman, Town of Monroe

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