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Columbia budget hearing set for April 25

April 18, 2012 Local News No Comments

With revisions made to the 2012-13 town/school budget, residents will review it during a public hearing at the end of the month.

The hearing will be held Wednesday, April 25 at 7:30 p.m. in the “cafetorium” of Horace W. Porter School.

The financial planning and allocation commission will hold a special meeting following the hearing to review the budget.

The proposed 2012-13 school/ town spending plan is $15,182,441, a 1.93 percent decrease from the current fiscal year.

Columbia First Selectmen Carmen Vance said there has been “good discussion” throughout the budget process and said she is pleased with the outcome.

The proposed budget entails an increase of 3.58 mills, from 23.55 to 27.13. This is fueled by a 13.2 percent drop in the 2011 grand list.

“It’s such a difficult year for peo­ple to understand because of the revaluation,” Vance said. “There will be an increase in the mill rate because of that, but we didn’t want the mill rate to increase much more beyond that.”

The general government budget is $3,291,027, a $62,766 increase, or 1.94 percent.

The financial planning and allo­cation commission made minor alterations to the original budget as proposed by Town Administrator Jonathan Luiz, including moving up the timeframe of the capi­tal project for rebuilding the fire truck.

Originally, the town had spread funding for the project over two years.

“We decided to do that in one year,” said Vance.

The total capital budget, as approved by the financial planning and allocation commission, is $2,773,576. This is an increase of $2,181,234, or 368 percent, from last year.

The large increase is due primarily to the $1,881,190 payment for the school roof replacement project, funds that are coming from the town’s fund balance.

Vance said the town decided to refurbish the truck to bring it up code, rather than buy a new one, because it would be the cheaper option.

The board of education bud­get, as adjusted by FIPAC, is $ 11,240,000, a decrease of $92,667, or 0.82 percent, from last year.

FIPAC members recommended the original budget be cut signifi­cantly.

“We looked at a two-year pattern of what was budgeted and what was needed,” said Sharpe. “We found out that we’ve been budgeting more than what was needed.”

Sharpe said there has been some “minor tension” associated with his board’s attempts to get more information from the board of education.

“FIPAC has been trying to get the full picture,” he said.

The town’s failure to meet the minimum budget requirement was addressed as part of budget talks.

The law requires school districts to allocate at least the same amount of funding that was in the budget the previous year.

Columbia’s school board set a budget based on the draft of that law, and after it was set, the state voted on a new MBR law.

Because of this, Columbia failed to meet the requirement this year, with the budget $ 158,723 less than the prior year.

The town has not yet decided how it will address the shortfall. One option is to appeal for a waiver.

Columbia may also decide to allocate more money for the school board.

“There’s no rush to take any action to bring them into compliance,” Sharpe said. FIPAC is trying to avoid allocat­ing more than is necessary and then being forced to sustain a superfluous budget for years to come.

Penalties relate to the amount of funding allocated to towns under the Education Cost Sharing grant program.

If Columbia does not make up for its shortfall by June 31, its 2013-14 Education Cost Sharing grant will be reduced by double the shortfall, or $317,446, next year.

ECS funding for 2012- 13 is already finalized and the penalty would apply to the following year.

This year, the town received approximately $ 2.6 million in ECS funds, with the grant expect­ed to remain level next year.

“I don’t know what we’re supposed to do,” said Sharpe. “It (the law) doesn’t make a lot of sense.”

Posted April 18, 2012

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