Winsted Town Seal
Winsted Town Seal

WINSTED — Town Manager Robert Geiger presented his revised proposed budget for Fiscal 2021-2022 at a public hearing on Monday, April 5.
The proposed budget is not the town’s final budget as the Board of Selectmen will be reviewing Geiger’s proposal at a special meeting scheduled for Monday, April 12 at 5 p.m.
The board has up to April 23 to deliberate on the proposed budget.
The annual town budget meeting is scheduled for Monday, May 10 at 7 p.m. but the location of the meeting has not yet been determined.
At the meeting, residents can propose cuts to line items, but cannot propose increases.
The budget will then go up to a vote at a referendum at a date that will be determined at the annual town budget meeting.
Town Manager Geiger’s proposed budget
As submitted at the April 5 public hearing, Geiger is proposing a total budget of $34,804,000, an estimated $656,000 increase from this current fiscal year.
A few weeks ago, Geiger submitted a proposed budget to the selectmen calling for a mill rate increase of .4 percent.
However, at the public hearing on April 5, Geiger submitted a budget with a revised proposed mill rate increase of .2 percent, which would bring the mill rate to 33.74.
Geiger said that he lowered the proposed increase after consulting with the town’s Board of Assessment Appeals.
“We received a little more money than we anticipated,” Geiger said. “Also, the PILOT Program coming from the state, which is paid instead of taxes, has proposed a larger remittance back to the towns on that program. That allowed us to reduce the proposed increase.”
The main topic of discussion during the public hearing was Geiger’s proposed school district budget.
Geiger is proposing to fund the schools at $20,692,000, an increase from the previous fiscal year of $250,000.
The school district asked for a $530,000 increase to its budget.
However, Geiger said that the school district has $496,000 that has been left over in its budget for the past two years that could make up for the shortfall.
He added that he is proposing $730,000 to be put in the “Town Support for Education” municipal budget line item; the originally proposed $480,000 plus $250,000 in additional funds.
While the school district can use the funds in the line item to pay for operational expenses, it cannot use the funds to directly pay for educational programming.
Geiger’s proposal did not sit well with school district officials, including Superintendent of Schools Melony Brady Shanley, and Board of Education Chairman Doug Pfenninger.
“Bob mentioned that we have $480,000 going into town support for education, and we’re very appreciative of that,” Pfenninger said. “He is suggesting to the selectmen that they add to that $250,000, which would bring it to a total of $730,000. That represents the total increase of the education budget since 2011, which is a four percent increase over 10 years. I don’t see that as a town supporting education. I think that is not even minimal to supporting a good educational program. Given what the state has invested in this school district, and what we have achieved with that money and with the money that the town has provided, I think that it will be in the town’s interest to give the Board of Education the requested budget appropriation.”
Brady-Shanley seconded Pfenninger’s statement.
“I would be remiss if I did not continue to advocate for our budget,” Brady-Shanley said. “Right now, while the [Town Support for Education line item] funds certainly helps us to move in the right direction, it’s creating a gigantic cliff for taxpayers next year,” Brady-Shanley said. “The cost of education is not going down. We have less than two percent wiggle room [in the district’s budget] in our entire budget. We are left right now with small incremental increases that are creating a gigantic gap in education funding that’s needed to support students. What I am asking you to do is to fully fund the education budget as originally proposed. I am asking the selectmen to consider the full amount and allow the taxpayers to ask for the reduction if necessary. Have the selectmen show that they will truly support our education budget and the needs that our students have.”
Brady-Shanley added that the $496,000 leftover in the school district’s budget for the past two years could not be spent for budget shortfalls.
“Every year we have two percent or whatever we are allowed to carry over from whatever we have leftover with your approval,” she said. “That money is equivalent to the fund balance that the town carries. Very similar. It’s a Board of Education account where, god forbid there is a boiler that breaks and I need to spend $300,000 to be able to fix something in an emergency. We don’t have to go to the selectmen to request that.”
As for the rest of the budget, Geiger is proposing an increase of $406,000 to the town side of the budget, bringing it to $14,112,000.
He said that major components include: $108,000 in accrued vacation and sick time payouts related to anticipated retirements, $95,000 in annual salary increases, $95,000 in medical insurance cost increases, and $42,000 in police and town pension plan contribution increases.
Geiger’s proposed budget also includes $1,861,000 in proposed capital improvements, including $1,012,000 in road and infrastructure improvements.