Garrity outlines budget process

KENT — The annual “budget season” has begun. Boards of education and selectmen, as well as other town boards and commissions, are meeting to prepare their spending plans for the 2013-14 fiscal year, which begins on July 1, 2013.Especially at the end of the season, when budgets are voted on at town meetings, people sometimes express frustration because they think the bottom line is too high or because items they think are important didn’t get enough funding.To help Kent residents understand how they can participate in the process of planning municipal and education budgets, The Lakeville Journal sat down with Christopher Garrity, chairman of the Board of Finance (BOF), to talk about what people can do to take part in the process.Garrity stressed that all board, commission and committee meetings are open to the public. Details of when meetings are held can be found on the town calendar online at www.townofkentct.org and in The Lakeville Journal.“Attending meetings when possible and writing letters to the appropriate boards are the two most effective ways residents can make their wishes known,” he said.Particularly important, he said, are the meetings where the Board of Selectmen (BOS) presents the proposed municipal spending plan to the finance board; and the meeting where the Board of Education presents the proposed education spending plan for Kent and the town’s portion of the Region One School District budget.The finance board meets after those presentations and discusses the spending plans in detail.In Kent, the Board of Finance can change individual line items on the municipal budget; but on the education budget, by law, the finance board can only accept or reject the entire budget.Garrity said the Kent Board of Finance usually holds at least three budget planning meetings, all of which are open to the public. Taxpayers can find out what items are being cut or funded in the town budget, and they can get a sense of what the impact will be on their property taxes.Garrity noted that it’s much more productive to attend these meetings, when the spending plan can be adjusted, than to wait for the town meeting. If nothing else, taxpayers should at least attend the public hearing that precedes the town meeting. At the hearing, town officials explain in detail how they came up with their spending plan, and can answer questions and make adjustments to line items. Garrity has been on the finance board for about 12 years and has been chairman for four. He said the goal of this board is to ensure that the town has limited tax growth. Some growth is inevitable due to inflation, emergencies, contracted salaries and health care. But he praised the many volunteers in town for working hard each year to keep spending low. “They’ve been good at making the budgets come in where they should,”he said. “Everyone is pulling in the same direction and trying to do what is best for the town.”

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