Simsbury Board of Finance grapples with budget proposals
By Paul Palmer
SIMSBURY – The Simsbury Board of Finance recently held its first public hearing on the proposed town budget for 2023/24 and residents could be looking at a tax increase of nearly 6%. The Town operating budget has come in at $31,618,710 up $1.358 million or 4.49% from a year ago. The Board of Education budget is $82,182,136 up $5,151,313 or 6.69%. Both budgets are dealing with massive contractual obligation costs - for the school district that number is 80%.
Based on these numbers, and reducing the mil rate to 32.04 the average taxpayer could see an increase of 5.93% over last year. Nine percent of homeowners would see their tax bill decrease from 2023, but 21% will be paying 12% or more in taxes based on the projected budgets. Overall, the projected expenditures are $122,345,730 or an increase of $7,384,459 from the 2022/23 budgets.
Like many towns in Connecticut, the impact of the state mandated revaluation of property is also playing a part. The median increase in price for a home in Simsbury went up 27.7%. A home that was valued at $350,000 is now valued at $446,950 with an assessed value increase of $67,865. That same home would see its taxes increase from $9,464 to $10,024 if the new budget proposals are adopted as submitted. In Simsbury, nearly 70% of taxes are raised through property tax and only 15 % of taxes are raised from commercial properties- a lower figure than many towns in the area. The proposed tax rate increase is the highest in 10 years in Simsbury.
The Board of Finance will now review the budget proposals and can recommend they be sent to a referendum as is, or make changes and return them to the Town and BOE before a public vote.
Board of Education Chair Susan Salina noted that the fixed costs for the schools are up 6.75%, but through reductions they have cut that figure to 6.69%. Excluding the fixed costs like salaries and benefits, the budget increase is just 0.06% according to Salinas. She talked of making reductions in staff, reallocating current staff and other miscellaneous reductions that brought down a budget proposal that started at just over 9% for the Simsbury schools.
The tough work ahead for the Board of Finance is to determine if there are places in the budgets that can be cut. They heard from members of the public at the public hearing who are looking to keep proposed funding for certain projects in town. Several members of the Old Drake Hill Flower Bridge Committee asked that the proposed $2 million for renovations to the bridge be kept. They pointed out that their requests have already been denied two previous times and that the bridge itself is in need of work to keep it a viable attraction that brings in visitors to Simsbury. Listed on the National register of Historic Places the bridge has boasts hundreds of flower displays that are maintained by volunteers .”I understand it is an expensive project, but it’s only getting more expensive as the years go on,” said Sharene Wassel, former co-chair of the Flower Bridge Committee. She and others pointed out the peeling paint on portions of the bridge that need immediate attention.
Other speakers asked the Board of Finance to help fund a second ambulance and full-time crew for the Simsbury Volunteer Ambulance Association. The SVAA does not currently receive funding from Simsbury but does hold a contract for providing the town’s EMS service. Simsbury Volunteer Fire Company Chief Jim Baldis asked the Board to keep the money needed to replace generators that are 32 and 34 years old that are currently in use. Baldis said he had approached the Board of Selectmen about using federal ARPA funds to replace the generators on two occasions, and has been told that it had to be part of the town budget process.
Lori Boyko - a town resident for more than 20 years - pointed out that a tax increase for some residents in Simsbury might be a hardship for some.
“We have lost touch with what we give our tax money too,” she said. “ We need to take a closer look at our wants versus our needs. School costs are not affordable now nor are they sustainable in the future.”
During its discussion, Board of Finance member Art House said the town is quickly approaching a crossroads. “If we’re starting to look way down the road, I see eventually a fork where we become an expensive, high tax town with an outstanding education system or a more reasonable town with an above average, but not top of the state, educational system.” House added that it pained him to raise the topic, but added that it is what the numbers are suggesting in Simsbury.
The Board of Finance continued the public hearing until its next meeting on April 18 at 5:45 p.m.