Board and Council Seek Budget Compromise
NEWINGTON - The Town Council and Board of Education began talks regarding a tentative budget compromise-one in which the Board seeks to direct surplus funds toward the Town Hall project in exchange for additional funding toward its stated 2.49 percent baseline-Thursday night.

       Superintendent Bill Collins could not reveal any other specifics related to the proposal-crafted collaboratively between Finance Director Ann Harter, Board CFO Lou Jachimowicz, and Town Manager Tanya Lane-as the discussions are being held in executive session because the inclusion of Town Hall makes it a real estate matter.

       The meeting was held a couple of nights after a Council Republican Majority proposed 0.3 percent Board budget increase passed in a 5-4 vote, with Democrats and Independent Councilor Maureen Klett dissenting.

       The Democrats had proposed granting the Board the Superintendent requested 2.49 percent-the Board level proposal came to 3.1 percent, with the inclusion of a second high school STEM teacher and $300,000 in deferred maintenance projects-but that motion failed 5-4.

       The Board has originally hoped to form a Board/Council subcommittee for the purpose of meeting in public, but the Council proposed that liaisons for each body communicate instead-a process Republican Majority Leader Beth DelBuono said would allow for more fluidity.

       So when the two groups came together Thursday night, the subcommittee had been formed only on the Board side, with the Council arriving as a whole.

       The Board hopes to not have to utilize a $1.2 million health benefit surplus to cover the fixed salary increases and staff retention-what’s essentially contained the Superintendent level budget-because it would involve directing nonrecurring funds toward recurring costs, Board Chair Nancy Petronio has said.

       Those concerns were echoed by Democratic Councilors a couple of nights before.

       “That money is not going to be there in coming years, so you shouldn’t be using it to offset your recurring expenses,” said Minority Leader Carol Anest after the Tuesday meeting.

       Republicans have pointed to anticipated reductions in municipal aid, as well as the potential for costly state level reforms-such as a Governor proposed shift of a third of the payments for teacher pensions-to come to fruition in what promises to be a tight budget cycle.

       “This situation is not one of expenditures, it’s one of revenues,” said Mayor Roy Zartarian Tuesday night. “We don’t know where that’s going to end up. With so much uncertainty, we have to look at every source of revenue we can get our hands on.”

       The budget goes to public hearing at 6 p.m. this coming Tuesday, but the two parties have until the official setting of the Mill Rate on April 18 to tentatively work out an agreement.

       They meet again in executive session at 6:30 Monday night.