Kellogg’s budget holds line on town spending, trims increase for Monroe’s schools

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First Selectman Ken Kellogg will present his budget proposal to the Town Council tonight. Contributed

First Selectman Ken Kellogg will present a $91.5 million town budget proposal for fiscal year 2020-21 to the Town Council tonight. The plan, which includes education and municipal spending, carries a projected 2.6 percent tax increase.

“This year’s proposed budget was developed with an overarching goal of controlling taxes, while ensuring that we continue to invest in our infrastructure, deliver cost-effective services to our community, provide excellence in education, and maintain the financial health of the town,” Kellogg said Sunday.

Kellogg will present his budget proposal at tonight’s Town Council meeting, which is scheduled to be held in the Council Chambers of Monroe Town Hall at 8 p.m.

The Council can make changes to the municipal budget. Then the Board of Finance will review and act on the municipal and Board of Education budgets at future meetings, before a proposal is sent to the May 5 referendum, where voters will have the final say.

The first selectman’s budget includes $29,132,349 for town services, a $174,848 or 0.6 percent increase from the current budget.

The Board of Education asked for $60,040,842 for the next school year for a 4.88 percent increase over its current $57,246,740 spending plan. Kellogg trimmed the requested increase back by $500,000.

His 2020-21 budget includes $59,540,842 for Monroe’s public schools for a $2,294,102  or 4.01 percent spending increase.

The town budget also includes Fund Appropriations and Contingency, which would rise from $1,648,636 to $2,861,000 for a 73.5 percent increase. The bulk of the increase is a $1.5 million medical reserve fund for the Board of Education.

An online calculator

If the first selectman’s budget is adopted without changes, the mill rate, which residents use to calculate individual tax bills, would rise from 35.58 to a projected tax rate of 36.51 mills for a 2.62 percent increase.

“Due to the state-mandated property revaluation that was just completed by our Assessor’s Office, the mill rate increase is not in proportion to the tax levy,” Kellogg said. “Since the property revaluation affects each taxpayer differently, I encourage taxpayers to go to our online calculator to research the potential impact to your tax bill.”

To view the online calculator click on this link.

Support for education

Though the first selectman reduced the rate of increase for education, he expressed his support for Monroe’s schools.

“I know some people will politicize this, but I do support education,” Kellogg said. “It’s a four percent increase. It’s still going to have a significant impact on our mill rate. I’m trying to present something I think the taxpayers will accept and we can afford.”

Kellogg said he appreciates the challenges the Board of Education faces, but said he also has to balance that with the needs of people in the community struggling to make ends meet, those depending on programs like the Food Pantry or Project Warmth, and those who are living on fixed incomes.

If he kept the education budget at 4.88 percent, Kellogg said the mill rate would increase by 3.27, rather than 2.6 percent — and if he kept everything in, including requests from town department heads, it would be over 8 percent, he added.

To illustrate how much he values education, Kellogg pointed out how the increase for education in his budget is four percent, compared to less-than-one percent for municipal services.

In the last two years, Kellogg said he supported numerous capital projects to improve the town’s schools, which are fully funded through bonding paid for from the municipal side of the town budget.

This includes over $440,000 for Chromebooks and laptops for both teachers and students and municipal bonding of over $250,000 to upgrade the Board of Education radio system with improved security features.

Kellogg said he supported the transfer of $465,000 from last year’s municipal budget surplus to pay for Board of Education medical expenses, and supports the Board of Finance making a $356,000 payment for the school board’s non-certified staff pension plan that had been deferred.

He said he supported access to $505,000 in prior year funds set aside by the Board of Finance in a statutory reserve fund and that he fully supports the transfer of approximately $700,000 from the Board of Finance contingency towards the education budget for the current fiscal year.

In his 2020-2021 budget, Kellogg said he included appropriations from the town’s fund balance totaling $1.5 million to fund Board of Education budget shortfalls in medical insurance costs from its prior, self-insured health plan.

Kellogg said his budget proposal also includes a $1 million Board of Finance contingency for unresolved and unanticipated municipal and Board of Education expenses, such as open municipal collective bargaining agreements and school board costs for special education, which are difficult to predict.

“I will happily keep all lines of communication open to the Board of Education,” Kellogg said. “I know they have challenges, but my understanding is they’re looking to address some structural budget issues.”

What will the Board of Finance do?

Earlier in the budget process, Board of Finance Chairman Michael Manjos had expressed concerns that the Board of Education’s request was too high. Now that Kellogg cut the rate of increase by $500,000, Manjos is already hearing concerns that his board will cut it even further.

“It’s way too premature to judge what we will do,” Manjos said Sunday. “I have no opinion at this point.”

Among the information the finance board has yet to gather, Manjos said the town still does not know how much Education Cost Sharing money Monroe will get. It is also a revaluation year with a lot of assessment appeals pending, he added.

“I want to commend the first selectman for making the cut,” Manjos said. “It would have been easier for him to send it to us as is. I commend him for doing the right thing. I thought the Board of Education acting on the budget was good as well. We’re all trying to do a little part together and hopefully we can come to a good solution.”

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