AVON, May 4, 2020 – In early March before the closure of schools and businesses in the state due to the contagious COVID-19 coronavirus, the Avon Town Council proposed a 2020-21 budget of $99.8 million that included a 4.68 percent increase in spending and a 3.47 percent increase in taxes.
On Monday night, the Avon Board of Finance heard two proposals at a special virtual meeting that would results in a tax increase of 0.00 percent or an increase of 0.52 percent.
Both proposals call for reductions of $1.62 million from the proposed budget — $499,000 from the town budget and $1.145 million from the Board of Education budget. It also calls for a $1.3 million contribution to the budget from the town’s strategic reserve account — the unassigned fund balance in budget documents.
Thomas Harrison, the Republican chair of the Board of Finance, said he would like to see a 0.00 tax increase if possible. “That’s the direction we would like to go in but we’re not locked in,” he said in a meeting broadcast virtually on Monday night. “We would like to see a zero tax increase but we’ll have to see what the consequences will be.”
Harrison urged residents to send in their comments via email to firstname.lastname@example.org or by U.S. mail to the Town Manager’s office at 60 West Main Street before May 11 at noon. “We are listening and reading your comments,” he said. Monday night’s meeting included 13 pages of comments from 56 residents.
The Board of Finance will make their final decision Monday, May 11. There will be no town referendum of the budget due to the COVID-19 crisis. To help reduce the spread of COVID-19, Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont issued an executive order on March 21 that, in part, suspended the in-person budget adoption requirement for cities and towns.
Town Manager Brandon Robertson said the town has already identified $499,000 in reductions in the proposed budget but didn’t go into detail of what those reductions would be.
The town budget proposes a $1.145 reduction in the school budget. Last week, the Board of Education identified $378,000 in reductions they could make. They still need to cut an additional $267,000 from their budget, Robertson said on Monday. The school budget would be $61.1 million, an increase of 4.11 percent from this year’s budget. But it is smaller than their initial request of $63.3 million.
Superintendent Dr. Bridget Carnemolla said the school budget is growing due to increased enrollment at the elementary school level, an increase in benefits for teachers covered in their contract and an expected increase for special education costs.
The budget includes two additional kindergarten teachers, a new grade 4 teacher, six paraprofessional educators and a library media specialist, a position that needs to be filled by a certified teacher.
Robertson presented two scenarios to the Board of Finance for a zero percent tax increase and a 0.52 percent tax increase.
In the zero tax increase proposal, the Board of Education keeps an estimated $500,000 in savings due to closing the schools in March in their budget for 2020-21. The town would need to use $1.8 million from the town’s strategic reserve account to bring the tax rate down to zero.
With a 0.52 percent tax increase, the town would take the expected $500,000 savings from the Board of Education account and move it into the overall town budget. The town would use just $1.3 million from the strategic reserve account.
Robertson said the fund is hard to replenish. It usually gets an infusion of cash from unused town and/or school funds at the end of a fiscal year, he said.
“We are comfortable taking $1.3 million (from the reserve account),” Robertson said. “Taking $1.8 million without a plan to reimburse (the account) is not advisable.”
The 0.52 percent tax increase would increase taxes $44 a year on a home with the median assessed value of $267,180.
“We will have to make a decision on what is best for Avon as a whole,” Harrison said.
Approval of either proposal by the Board of Finance (BOF) would result in the lowest tax increase in Avon in the last 20 years. In 2015, taxes rose 1.69 percent and in 2009, they rose 1.65 percent.
BOF member Catherine Salchert was concerned about the size of the reduction to the Board of Education budget. Seventy percent of the proposed reduction to the town budget is from the Board of Education and thirty percent is from the town budget. There is no rule that said the Board of Education has to take 70 percent of this reduction,” Salchert said.
Finance Board member Katrina Marin offered suggestions on cutting costs including a hiring freeze in town, removal of travel costs, a freeze on wages for non-union personnel and a second look at replacing the heating system at the library with a conventional heating system instead of a geo-thermal system.
With so many in the private sector losing their jobs, having their hours reduced or pay reduced, member Margaret Bratton suggested asking the unions if their members would consider taking a zero percent increase next year.
More than 130 people viewed the meeting Monday night.
Harrison praised members of the Town Council, Board of Education, Board of Finance and Robertson and his staff in compiling this budget.
“This is the best level of cooperation I have been between three boards,” Harrison said. “It is inspiring. We are very well served here in Avon. Democrats and Republicans take to each other. We all come down and decide on a course of action on what is best for Avon as a whole. Unlike what we see in Washington and sometimes in Hartford, they all work together. They work in unison and care about the town.”