Council Split on 0.6 Mill Rate Increase
ROCKY HILL - The Town Council voted 5-4 to pass a $74.2 million budget-a 0.6 increase in the Mill Rate-Monday night with dissenting members of the Republican Minority citing concerns regarding the deliberation timeline and the exclusion of a tentative $2 million in teacher pension costs.

       The budget-Town and Board combined-brings the Mill Rate to 31.6. The school side appropriation totals $40.4 million, after some late health insurance related savings helped the Board to reduce its ask by $405K. Around $100K left over from the Griswold Middle School air conditioning project enabled a further decrease in the Board’s budget proposal.

       Councilors from both parties thanked Acting Town Manager John Mehr, as well as town staff and the Board of Education, while noting uncertainties from the state in the way of municipal aid and the proposal to shift a portion of teacher pension costs to the towns.

       “I think this year was much easier with reviewing,” said Democratic Councilor John Emmanuel. “I think the Town Manager [John Mehr] deserves a lot of credit for coming forth with a very responsible budget. I think what we have is applicable to current times for the town. We have some unknowns.”

       Republicans took issue with the fact that the $2 million it would cost Rocky Hill is not included in the final budget. This discussion has taken place in other municipalities, with results varying. Neighboring Wethersfield just passed its appropriation minus the $2.8 million the move would pass on to them, with the expectation that any shift I that regard-considered highly unlikely at this point-would come with a reopener period for towns to adjust accordingly.

       “I know of many towns that are not addressing this because there are a lot of options if this does happen,” said Democratic Councilor Tony La Rosa.

       Republicans said that they had hoped to have been able to hold more meetings-the deliberation process consisted of four workshop sessions-before deciding how to handle areas such as new vehicle purchases, and additional staff.

       On the former, Councilor Catherine Vargas suggested that a mileage reimbursement program for the use of personal vehicles might have been preferable to buying new-a point Mayor Claudia Baio expressed agreement with.

       “Unfortunately it can’t happen overnight, and we have to leave our town with something in place,” she said.

       As for the Mill Rate increase-considered by Democrats to be “very modest” given “difficult” times-Republicans implied that they had hoped to come in lower, but with the inclusion of line items such as the Board requested SRO position, as well as additional school Board funds.

       “Raising taxes is never the solution in this town. It’s always been the problem with government,” said Minority Leader Henry Vasel. “This budget places an added burden on our seniors, students, and the hard working tax payers of Rocky Hill.”

        A couple of the Board’s major budget line items are the hiring of two elementary level teachers, as well as the purchase of portable trailer classrooms for Myrtle Stevens Elementary and Griswold Middle School. 

Both are driven by growing enrollment-a trend Zito expects to continue in coming years. 

       The district has seen an influx of 202 students over the past three years, according to Zito. 

       NESDEC projects a 206 increase over the next two years, with most landing at the elementary level, Zito said.