Town looking at rise in spending

CORNWALL — A proposal for the 2013-14 town budget was presented by the selectmen to the Board of Finance Feb. 21. The $42,214 or 2.55 percent increase in spending for a total of $1,695,433 was met with very little discussion by Board of Finance members. Chairman Ralph Gold thanked the selectmen for continuing to hold the line on spending. “I know a lot of people would like to do a lot of things,” he said. “I appreciate the effort.”First Selectman Gordon Ridgway said the budget plan started out at a 3.5 percent increase, due in part to various groups requesting increases in an effort to get back on track with plans and needs.“There are still financial hardships in town, and we’re still trying to keep expenses down. Some requests were not granted, or at least not in full,” Ridgway said.Successful efforts to keep costs down at the administrative level are owing to the hard work of town employees, he said. A 2.75 percent across-the-board pay increase is proposed.Recent years have brought vigorous debate over salary increases for town employees, at least the ones at Town Hall who are not unionized. Proposed raises of 1 or 2 percent were criticized in the light of the recession and static pay for many in other fields, including state employees.A notable budget increase goes to the Cornwall Volunteer Fire Department (CVFD). Ridgway, a CVFD officer, said there have been no increases for a number of years. The proposal bumps them up about 10 percent.Line item increases go to firehouse maintenance, operations and the rescue team. There is a $5,000 cut to one line in the CVFD budget. It is an adjustment to the service incentive pension plan based on forfeitures from last year. Contributions are made into the plan for volunteers who remain active or who are on a hardship leave of absence. Anyone who leaves or becomes inactive prior to retirement loses the pension. The personnel losses were due to a combination of withdrawals of CVFD membership and others who moved away.There is less tension when it comes to town finances as the economy improves a bit, as well as mutual faith in fiscal responsibility. There are the local and regional school budgets to factor in as well.Education budget March 14The Cornwall Consolidated School (CCS) budget proposal was expected to be released March 7. It was reported at the Feb. 21 school board meeting that the proposed increase for the local education budget is 1.53 percent. Cornwall’s share of the Region One School District budget is expected to rise by .37 percent, putting total education spending for the town at just over $4 million.The CCS budget plan will be presented to the finance board on March 14.State budget concernsWhat will happen at the state capital in Hartford is an area of concern.Discussion at the February meeting focused on a proposal for all municipalities to use the same accounting software. It is expected to cost the state $6 million to implement. The purpose is to standardize the way budget data is sent to the state, a process already allowed under state statute.It was noted, however, that the state does not audit town finances. Ridgway made the point that if a town is not being financially prudent, it will be evident in the budget it publicly approves. Finance members voted unanimously to endorse a letter opposing the change; the letter was written by the town of Westbrook.The governor’s proposed elimination of motor vehicle taxes paid to towns was discussed. No one was able to find any logic in it. Ridgway reported “significant bipartisan concern” at a recent Connecticut Conference of Municipalities meeting in Hartford over the proposed elimination of grant money to towns to offset the loss of taxes on state-owned land. In Cornwall, that’s thousands of acres, or about 20 percent, for which the town has been paid about $25,000 per year, he said. The plan is to divert those funds to Education Cost Sharing grants for towns where there is greater need.State aid for road maintenance — called “Town Aid, Road” — may go up. Cornwall could receive an additional $65,000, Ridgway said, but a plan to bond work at a low rate would “eventually cost us more than we are getting.”

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