MONROE, CT — Town department supervisors, police officers, public works and highway employees agreed to concessions to make up for a $300,000 budget cut meant to keep taxes flat amid a Covid-19 pandemic that is wreaking havoc on local economies throughout the nation.
First Selectman Ken Kellogg and Ryan & Ryan, the town’s special counsel for labor, negotiated with the three unions and the Town Council approved the concessions at a special meeting held remotely Tuesday night.
“I’m very appreciative of all of our employees and our unions, who all stepped up to help our community,” Kellogg said Wednesday morning.
Executive orders by Gov. Ned Lamont took away Monroe’s budget referendum this year, leaving it up to a town’s “budget making authority” to approve budgets, while avoiding gatherings of voters during the pandemic. Monroe’s authority is the Board of Finance.
Kellogg asked the Board of Finance not to raise the tax rate, because many Monroe families who lost jobs in the pandemic are struggling.
To avoid raising taxes without eliminating jobs and services, the board dipped into the undesignated fund balance to use $8 million, used another $500,000 from a designated fund balance and asked unions for teachers and town employees to forgo raises for one year.
In addition to offsetting spending increases, use of the undesignated fund balance is meant to make up for lost revenue expected from those who lost their jobs not being able to pay their taxes. Town officials agree this one time fix will ensure a significant tax increase next year.
The 2020-21 budget assumes the unions will agree to forgo raises for one year.
On the town side, agreements were reached with the clerical, police, supervisors and highway/public works unions, closing a $300,000 gap and making the $31.5 million budget for municipal services whole.
Meanwhile, teachers‘ and administrators’ unions have helped to make up for Board of Finance cuts on the $58.5 million Board of Education side of the ledger, and talks are still underway with secretaries, paraprofessionals, custodians and nurses unions.
Mill rate is lower
Tax bills will be mailed out this week. The total $90 million town budget reduces the mill rate from 35.58 to 35.48 mills. Kellogg said the affect on individual taxpayers will vary because it was a revaluation year.
“If your property value did not change from last reval, taxes will go down by 0.28 percent,” he said. “But if your valuation went down the reduction will be more. If it rose, you’ll see a difference.”
Kellogg said the state mandated revaluation re-calibrates property values, so properties are taxed fairly. He encourages residents to use an online calculator, which takes the latest reval into consideration, to figure out their individual tax bills. To access the calculator, click on this link.
“Call the Tax Collector’s Office with any questions,” he said. “They will be happy to explain things and go over numbers.”
Kellogg said the tax bills will have information on changes to interest on late payments. This is based on a program adopted by the Town Council.
New park stickers are also being mailed out this week. The new ones are red. The current blue ones will be honored through July 15.
Though the contract with Monroe Police Union Council #4, AFSCME had already been approved, police officers agreed to come back to the bargaining table and give up some holiday pay in 2020-21.
Kellogg also said the department had one retirement and Chief John Salvatore had no issues with keeping the position open this year. The first selectman said it is not unusual to have an opening, adding two officers in training will soon be on the road.
Kellogg said new three-year-contracts had been struck with the Local 818 of Council #4, AFSCME, AFL-CIO (Supervisor’s Union) and the Connecticut Association of Labor Unions (Highway Union).
Both contracts include wage freezes in year one, a 2 percent increase in 2021-22 and a 2.25 percent raise in 2022 -23.
These employees also agreed to increase their contributions to medical premiums by half a percent in years two and three. Though the employee contributions remain flat in the first year of the new contract, Kellogg said the previously negotiated contract raises it by 0.75 percent on June 30.
Kellogg said he is “extremely appreciative” of the police officers who are on the front lines for public safety during the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as all of the employees who are keeping town departments operational.
He also thanked the volunteers and workers who operate the Monroe Food Pantry for their contributions.
“It’s just another example of everyone being part of the team and helping out,” Kellogg said.