While many neighboring towns are facing tax increases this budget season, Darien’s is actually going down.
Darien’s Board of Finance is recommending a mill rate of 16.08 for the 2018-19 fiscal year, representing a marginal decrease from the current tax rate of 16.16. Following the board’s review of proposed budgets presented by the Board of Education and Board of Selectmen, the 2018-19 budget will move on to a vote at the Representative Town Meeting in May.
The Board of Finance unanimously approved an overall budget appropriation of $145,171,660 for the coming year with $98,122,266 for school district funding and $47,049,394 for town government operations coming from the town’s general fund along with an additional appropriation of $4,235,036 for capital and non-recurring expenses from the town’s reserve fund. The town’s budget for the current fiscal year is $145,304,061 with $6,710,656 set aside for capital expenses.
The Board of Finance was able to reduce the proposed budget for 2018-19 by deciding to pay for a handful of capital projects proposed by the school district with bonds, rather than including them in the overall budget. Those projects included rooftop replacements and a skylight at Holmes School, along with a turf field replacement project. Together those projects made up about $1.5 million in proposed capital expenses.
Board of Finance members discussed the decision to bond projects based on the town’s decreasing debt commitments and the benefits of investing in school property long term. Board member Rob Cardone, who joined the board this past November, asked if the board was planning on developing formal policy on which projects would be bonded moving forward. Chairman Jon Zagrodzky said that policy discussions would be forthcoming, but the projects being moved from the budget this week fit the expected criteria.
Despite the changes to the capital projects, the Board of Finance approved the Board of Education’s proposed budget $98.12 budget as recommended. The education budget would increase spending by 2.34%, a lower increase than several neighboring towns expect this year. The Board of Selectmen’s operating budget for town services would decrease by less than 1%, following a recommendation from First Selectman Jayme Stevenson that town department heads budget for a flat increase the coming year.
Town officials have been vocal about maintaining fiscal responsibility in the face of state’s ongoing budget issues and the town’s own revaluation. Darien has seen a steady decrease in state funding and Stevenson has expressed concern that the town could eventually be paying more to the capital in taxes than it receives in support. A state aid included grant in the budget was halved by the Board of Finance as the town has only received half of the expected amount of funding this year.
Darien is also undergoing a revaluation, as mandated by the state every four years. All of the town’s property will be reassessed as a part of the process and the adjusted values will determine how much property owners will pay in taxes going forward. Even with the slightly decreased tax rate for 2018-19, residents could see their taxes go up in the long term based on the revaluation.
While other factors may determine the full tax impact on Darien residents, town officials have shown restraint in this year’s budget. Serving as the town’s legislative body, the Representative Town Meeting will have an opportunity to further cut items from the selectmen’s operating budget and approve or deny the Board of Education budget as proposed. The RTM is expected to vote on the budget on May 14 and the 2018-19 fiscal year will commence on July 1.