Budgets approved, some RTM members not happy with school budget

The town budget and mill rate were well received at Monday night's RTM meeting, but some members were less than thrilled with the Board of Education budget.

The decision to approve the town and school budgets for a total of $155 million with a mill rate of 12.2 percent drew some criticism from the RTM who felt the school budget was too excessive in the current economic environment. The fact the RTM was voting on both budgets and the mill rate at once also drew some concern.

As the resolution for the budget vote was written, RTM members would vote to approve the town budget, the BOE budget and the increased mill rate as one item. The question was raised if the resolution could be split into two components, town and mill rate as one item and the BOE budget as a separate item.

Each RTM sub-committee had the opportunity to voice concerns with any part of the budget but most of the concerns focused on the ballooning BOE budget.

BOE Chairman Kim Westcott spoke in defense of the school budget and explained the goal of the BOE was to continue to maintain the high academic levels at the schools. She explained how contract negotiations played a role in increasing the budget, but added that this summer, the BOE can re-negotiate.

"It has been difficult honoring our contracts," Westcott said. "We have to find relief and we need to manage all aspects of the budget carefully."

District V RTM member Jack Davis spoke passionately about the town's obligation to fund all children's education regardless of their ability.

"It is not appropriate to worry about mandates, this is about civil rights," Davis said. "I've always been a strong supporter of the BOE but this year I will be voting differently than I did last year. I will not vote for this budget."

Finance & Budget Committee Chairman Bruce Orr said the majority of the costs in the town budget were due to capital expenses. One issue some RTM members had with the budget was the town's dependence on property tax values. Two of the Finance & Budget Committee members felt it would be better to look at the budgets on a unified basis.

Parks & Recreation Committee Chairman Cheryl Russell voiced concerns over the decision to cut more than $100,000 from the Parks Department's budget.

"These cuts affect the public," Russell said. "Our budget receives such a tiny piece of the pie."

Russell's concerns focused mostly on the decision to not replenish the sand at Pear Tree Point and why the town won't put aside $30,000 to build a dog park.

The decision to split the resolution was not made and the RTM approved the $155 million operating budget 55 to 20 with two abstentions.