Branford’s town budget passed its final hurdle with rare ease, culminating with a unanimous vote on the Representative Town Meeting.
The budget for fiscal year 2019-20 will be $115,297,464, an increase of 3.2 million dollars. The budget does account for potential changes at the state level, notably a potential change in how teacher pensions are funded.
The mill rate moving forward is estimated to be 29.13 mills, an increase of 1.7%. The Board of Finance will formally set the mill rate next week.
The RTM meeting was largely uneventful, with the budget discussion seeing a few small changes made, one a small cut to the Blackstone Library budget to cap their increase at 2.5% that passed, the second to increase funding for police by about $5,000 to provide security on weekends in Stony Creek.
The measure failed to pass when moderator Dennis Flanigan broke a tie with a no vote. The vote overall had little impact however, the funds can be transferred from contingency at any time, and those against the measure did so as the details of the position had not yet been determined.
Republican Don Conklin proposed a cut to contingency to cap it under one million, and the RTM agreed passing the measure unanimously. The concern with contingency is that is can be an overtaxation each year that then becomes part of the undesignated fund balance if not used.
Currently, according to Conklin, the town has an undesignated fund balance of about $25 million. Conklin considered this high, as financial advisors to the town suggested having about 2 months expenses on hand as the undesignated fund balance; first selectman Jamie Cosgrove and finance director Jim Finch have kept it slightly higher due to the uncertainty at the state level. The larger safety net has also allowed funding for new accounts, notably a recent Costal Resiliency Fund, likely the first of its kind in the state.
The Coastal Resiliency Fund was initially funded with 1 million dollars, the budget added $300,000 to that. The formation of the fund allows for greater investment options to see a higher rate of return, increasing dollars for projects first detailed in a Coastal Resiliency Study done by the town.
Another proposal that was made was a $200,000 cut to the Board of Education budget by Republican Peter Black, but the move was rejected soundly by both political parties on the RTM. The main concern is that the cut was not raised in committee and was viewed as arbitrary. The measure as voted down.
Most town employees that are not governed by contract saw a 2-2.5% raise as is common. First selectman Cosgrove did not take a raise; he has not taken a raise in any year he has been first selectman since first being elected in 2013.
Overall, the process for the budget was a smooth one, and that was reflected in the process at both the Board of Finance and RTM levels.
Ray Ingraham, Republican majority leader on the RTM, thanked all those involved, calling it a “good, thoughtful” process.