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Canton Board of Finance sets modified 2024-25 budget proposal for June 4 referendum

By John Fitts Staff Writer

Education Association of Canton members wave to those arriving for the May 20 meeting.

CANTON - The town's Board of Finance voted on May 20 on a modified 2024-25 budget proposal to send to voters on June 4.

After a lengthy public hearing and discussion on what voters – who rejected the town’s first plan - might accept and how adjustments would affect the town and school district, the Board of Finance voted for a spending plan of $48,611,346. That would be a 3.99 % increase over the approved 2023-24 spending plan. The plan that voters defeated at a May 7 referendum represented a 5.57 % increase in spending.

Specifically, the new budget includes the following:

During the May 20 public hearing the finance board heard from numerous residents, as well as local teachers and representatives from Education Association of Canton, some of whom live out of town but were allowed to speak. In all, more than 50 teachers waved signs outside the community center before coming to the meeting.

Several other residents spoke or wrote to the board with wide ranging opinions. Some want to see a budget with no increase, but advocated strongly for certain programs, such as a half-year budgeting for an additional police officer, which is still in the budget.

Others felt the Board of Education should cut administrators and some said they felt the town and school district were not being creative in their budgeting or seeking enough donations. Others advocated for schools or public safety generally.

Some advocated for certain services, such as the library, although at least one speaker proposed staff cuts there.

The finance board members also spoke at length, with many members expressing the need to acknowledge the no vote while balancing services and the rising costs that the town also faces with inflation, contractual service increases, some pay raises and other increased costs. Several numbers were debated before the final vote. Finance board Tom Blatchley sought further reductions and voted no on the new plan, as he did for the first one.

There were also a few tense moments, including exchanges between First Selectman Kevin Witkos and some on the finance board and at least one between Blatchley and finance board member Peg Berry.

To get to the 3.99 % level, the finance board trimmed $741,928 from the previous proposal. The Board of Education budget was reduced by $417,253, the Board of Selectmen by $294,675 and the Board of Finance by $30,000. The later reduces the funds the finance board had put in to bolster the town’s fund balance and brings that down to $260,000.

Both the Board of Education and Board of Selectmen met this past week to work on reductions as the Board of Finance does not have line-item authority. However, $70,000 of finance board reductions came for the removal of a schools HVAC out of the Capital Improvement Budget, which is on the Board of Selectmen side. On May 20, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Jordan Grossman told the finance board that the state legislature delayed the requirement for an HVAC study to 2026.

Save for that $70,000 and the $30,000 from the fund balance bolster, the finance board directed 65 % of the cuts to come from the Board of Education and 35 % from the Board of Selectmen. This was one point of the controversy with some members and Witkos, as a working suggestion had involved 70-30 split. It's not the only tense moment that's been aired in recent weeks. (As time permits, we hope to update this story with more details).

Below are graphics of the items trimmed by the Boards of Selectmen and Education - or those who want to skip right to the new proposal on the town's web site can find it here.

The Board of Education met on May 21 and, working from a list administrators had provided at a meeting last week, reduced the following items, with approximately $51,000 in reductions to be determined. Note - these graphics were produced by the school system.

School board members and administrators also detailed what they said were some misconceptions in the community, and explained some of the above items in detail, also noting that some of the items could potentially be funded by Parent groups, grants, etc.

The Board of Selectmen met Wednesday, May 22 and made the following reductions noted on the next two slides. (Note $25,000 was from pre-referendum cuts that had not yet been determined).

The mill rate, if the budget passes will be 34.15. While the current mill rate is 35.37, most will see a tax increase due to revaluation, which shifted more of the tax burden to homeowners, due to a sharp increase in values overall. With that in mind, voters approved a four-year phase in at a recent town meeting.

Property owners can figure out their taxes by taking the assessed value of their property (which is 70% of market value) and multiplying the number by the mill rate and dividing that number by 1,000. However, keep in mind that phase in, meaning 25 percent of the difference in the new assessed value will take effect next year. So, if one's assessed value of one's home went up $100,000, 25 % or 25,000 of that increase value would be implemented for the next tax bill.

The motor vehicle mill rate would be 32.46 – the maximum allowed by the state.

The referendum is set for 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. June 4.

See the new budget proposal here.


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