MONROE, CT — Town officials reluctantly bypassed Monroe’s annual budget referendum to follow Gov. Ned Lamont’s executives orders compelling them to authorize the Board of Finance to adopt a budget and set the tax rate.
Lamont’s orders are meant to provide fiscal certainty during the coronavirus pandemic. The Town Council unanimously adopted a resolution to follow the orders Monday night.
Town Attorney Frank Lieto worked closely with First Selectman Ken Kellogg to understand the executive orders and to draft the resolution.
“First Selectman Kellogg did not take this mandate lightly and it was a mandate,” Lieto said in the virtual meeting, held on GoToMeeting. “We tried to see if we could have a wait and see approach to salvage this referendum. He went above and beyond.”
The governor has issued a flurry of executive orders as Connecticut tries to manage the pandemic and Lieto said mayors and first selectmen have been scrambling to understand each one.
Lieto said this is not an easy task and praised Kellogg and his staff at Monroe Town Hall for the long hours spent on interpreting the orders and hard work of reaching compliance.
“The job Ken has done with this pandemic, someone should write a book someday,” he said. “He doesn’t sleep.”
Of approving a town budget without a referendum vote, Lieto said, “hopefully this never happens again.”
Town Councilman Jason Maur was the sole member to comment before the unanimous vote.
“This is a motion that I don’t take lightly,” he said of bypassing the referendum. “It’s unfortunate, but this is best for the health and safety of members of the town. I appreciate all the work everyone put into this.”
A budget workshop
Kellogg said the budget resolution requires the Board of Finance to submit its budget proposal by May 20, before voting on it sometime between June 2 and 5.
On Thursday, the Board of Finance will continue to deliberate on the budget with another workshop at 6 p.m.
The total $91.5 million town budget proposal for fiscal year 2020-21 carries a projected 2.6 percent tax increase. It includes $59.5 million for education and $31.9 million for town services. Currently, the proposal represents a 4.01 percent spending increase for Monroe’s schools and 0.6 percent for town services.
An extended budget approval process will allow residents more time to submit questions, comments and concerns to the Board of Finance before the final budget vote. Kellogg said IT will create a generic email address for people to use.
Townspeople will also have an opportunity to speak and submit comments for a budget hearing, which will be held remotely on a date to be announced.
Above and beyond
At the end of Monday’s meeting, Councilman Kevin Reid thanked Lieto for his work as town attorney since stepping down as chairman of the Town Council and accepting the role pro-bono for the rest of the year, following the sudden loss of Jeremy Hayden, 41, who died at his home on Oct. 29.
“A lot of people are doing amazing things in town,” Reid said of the response to the pandemic. “This individual never seeks a lot of praise. He turns away from it. This guy didn’t go to law school to manage a pandemic in town. Frank Lieto, I have no doubt this is not what you meant by pro bono work. Thank you.”
Other council members also thanked Lieto and Kellogg for the job they have been doing and Maur added the essential workers who are operating Town Hall and keeping vital businesses like grocery stores and pharmacies open.
“I appreciate all the kind words said earlier,” Kellogg said. “Frank, to say this is above and beyond what he signed up for is certainly an understatement. To review FOI to make sure we’re doing right by our citizens, hours reviewing executive orders and drafting a resolution — your leadership is appreciated. Thank you all.”