By John Fitts
CANTON — By a tally of 162—9, electors on Monday night approved the town of Canton’s 2016-2017 spending plan of $37,549,199 – a 1.94 percent increase in expenditures over the approved 2015-2016 budget of $36,834,299.
Each component of the budget is as follows.
- Board of Education – $25,166,699, a 1.1 percent increase over the 2015-2016 approved budget of $24,901796
- Board of Selectmen – $10,337,064, a 3.5 percent increase over last year’s $9,982815
- Board of Finance (largely debt service for bonded projects such as the track and roads) -$2,045,436, a 4.91 percent increase.
Under the plan, taxes will increase 1.94 percent and the mill rate will go from 29.19 to 29.76 – or $29.76 for every $1,000 of assessed property.
Town officials said the owner of an “average” Canton home valued at $341,189 and assessed at $238,832, would see taxes go up $135.
The vote came following a few short statements on the budget plan from first selectwoman Leslee Hill, Board of Education Chairwoman Julie Auseré and Board of Finance Chairman Brian First.
First said the town faced a multi-faceted situation with limited grand list growth and uncertainty at the state level but some necessary expenses mentioned by first Selectwoman Leslee Hill – such as the town’s upgrade to a paramedic level of ambulance service.
First said the Board of Finance did try to prepare for potential uncertainty at the state level.
“The Board of Finance was intentionally conservative in looking at state revenues and also our local tax revenues,” he said.
Additionally, the town’s debt service is experience a peak year with payments on bonded projects such as road maintenance, the track and field facility, roofs and a new fire apparatus. The Board of Finance took $150,000 out of the town’s “reserves” to smooth that out, he said.
To get to the numbers presented to voters, the finance board had cut $20,000 from the Board of Education’s proposed operating budget and $80,000 from its capital improvement plan. It also trimmed $13,000 from the Board of Selectmen operating budget. First praised both boards for presenting reasonable plans but said numbers had to be balanced with taxpayer’s ability to pay.
“We felt the budgets presented to us were responsible and followed our request to try to limit the amount of spending increases as much as possible with that you did hear about some priorities that needed to be met and there were some increases that we felt could bot be avoided,” First said.
“Also we definitely needed to recognize the need of all taxpayers to have a relatively light tax burden and at the same time maximize the services that can be provided,” First added.
Only one resident, former First selectman Richard Barlow, spoke at the meeting. He urged residents to pass the budget plan but said he did have some concerns with the Board of Education budget. Barlow said the board should have included the $88,000 in the budget for maintenance of the multi-use track and field, not the $74,000 in the plan.
“I think that is a mistake to underfund what was previously determined to be an appropriate level,” Barlow said.
Barlow also questioned some of the procedures around the Open Choice grant the school system receives for accepting students from Hartford.
In his annual budget presentations, Superintendent Kevin Case notes what initiatives are funded from the annual grant, expected to be approximately $824,000 for 2016-2017.
But Barlow argued that the choice funding should be reflected in the budget number that goes to voters. He also said any unused portion should be returned to the town’s general fund.
“Those are some procedural things that in fairness and transparency should be considered in future budgets,” Barlow said.
Board of Education officials chose not to respond at the meeting.
By the town’s charter, a total of 150 qualified electors were needed to validate Monday’s vote. While the meeting started with fewer, enough people ended up coming to take a vote and that fact was announced by moderator David K. Leff just prior to First talking the microphone.
“First, thank you Mr. moderator and thank you to everyone for coming this evening, especially the 150th person,” First said.