Groton – A dozen people at Thursday’s public budget hearing expressed support for a proposed climate resilience program manager position, and several fire officials spoke out in favor of a proposed fire center. firefighting training.
Chief Executive Officer John Burt presented a proposed budget for fiscal year 2022 of $ 138,647,317, which represents an increase of $ 8,193,333, or 6.3%, over the current year’s budget.
He said the increases in the city’s proposed spending plan are mainly due to the payment of Groton 2020 school plan obligations, as well as capital improvement projects, subdivision requests, new staff positions for the police department and for the position of climate resilience program manager. , and increases for benefits and contributions to health and service organizations.
According to the budget book, the overall budget includes: $ 38,522,144 for the operation of the City, an increase of 5.1%; $ 77,438,090 for education, a 0% increase; $ 13,874,450, for capital / debt service, an increase of 60.6%; $ 1,990,923 for external agencies, an increase of 7.7%; $ 6,471,710 for subdivisions, an increase of 14.5%, and $ 350,000 for contingencies, an increase of 0%.
Burt said the budget proposal, as it stands, would increase the tax rate from $ 25.11 to $ 26.22 million next year. He said it’s been a tough year, but he expects the city to be able to make cuts during its deliberations.
The budget includes approximately $ 275,000 for the new positions. For the city police department, the budget provides for a social worker position and an additional community police officer, as well as part-time community service officers who can take care of tasks that may not require a police officer. police, but at a lower cost, he said. Burt said the city has a “world class police service,” but is trying to do even better and keep improving. The budget also provides for the climate resilience program manager, who would work in the planning and development services department.
“We’re on the Sound and we’re already seeing some effects of climate change,” Burt said. “This is something we need to sort out sooner rather than later. “
The city typically spends around $ 2 million each year on capital improvement projects, but Burt said he believes that is insufficient to maintain the city’s facilities and plans to increase that base level. He is proposing $ 1 million in this category for roads, rather than bonding money for roads like in previous years, and an additional $ 1.351 million for projects the city has postponed.
“I want to have the discussion if we want to continue these projects or possibly remove them permanently from the list,” he said.
The spending plan uses a fund balance of around $ 2.8 million, still leaving the city with a healthy reserve, he said. He noted that he expects revenues to increase over the next two years as the proposed development projects take off.
Burt also explained that the current year’s budget is “rudimentary” as it was worded at the start of the pandemic, so now the city is bringing back its funding levels.
Superintendent Susan Austin said the schools budget was initially proposed as a 3.1% increase due to contract increases, but she and her predecessor, Michael Graner, reduced the proposal to a 1.1% increase. , then the Board of Education further reduced it to 0.% increase.
She said salaries make up the biggest part of any school budget, but school officials were able to offset contractual increases with efficiency gains due to the consolidation of elementary schools next year. Some categories are on the decline, such as real estate services, as the district offers more in-house services with purchased equipment, while other areas are increasing, such as potentially electrical costs, as new buildings are added.
A dozen people spoke out in favor of the climate resilience program manager and said the coastal community must take action now to tackle climate change. According to a draft job description, the staff member would be responsible for developing and implementing a sustainable development action plan for the city, assisting the resilience working group and sustainability in preparing plans and policies and helping ‘to integrate climate change preparedness and projections into municipal projects, planning and permit review and to ensure that the community has the knowledge, the support and resources needed to reduce its vulnerability to the increasing risks associated with climate change.
Zell Steever, chair of the task force, read aloud a statement from the task force indicating that city council spent on March 2 “A revolutionary resolution dealing with climate change, resilience and sustainability as the central management principal for all actions of city government”. The resolution called for the new staffing position.
“We will save taxpayer dollars, make Groton a better place to live, work and play if we hire someone to reduce our carbon footprint and address our vulnerabilities to the effects of climate change and secure funding for these purposes,” did he declare.
Jennifer O’Donnell, Groton resident and coastal engineer, said Groton is currently affected by the effects of climate change.
“With Long Island Sound to the south and bounded by the Mystic River, the Thames River to the east and west, as well as the Poquonnock River and Jordan Brook, Groton is particularly sensitive to sea level rise.” , she said. “Groton has experienced coastal erosion and flooding in good weather before. These effects of climate change will only become more pronounced and problematic in the future. “
Several fire officials have expressed support for a $ 95,000 capital improvement project for a firefighting training center behind the town hall annex.
Tony Manfredi, deputy chief of the Mystic Fire Department and training coordinator for the Groton Fire Officers Association, said such a facility is important for training new volunteers and for successful peer support. Currently, the nearest training center is in Willimantic.
While the majority of comments were about the new staff position and the training center, residents raised other concerns as well. Kathy Chase, a representative member of the town meeting, said she appreciated the 0% increase in the education budget, but voters were promised savings with the new school buildings and she wanted to know where they were.
RTM member Mike Whitney said that, given the challenges of these times, avoiding any big tax hikes would help. He noted that he was saying this at a time when society expects more from government, which naturally increases costs, so he hopes state and federal government funding can help. He added that it is more important than ever to support health and service agencies so that they can reach more people.
The council must approve a budget by April 28 and the representative city meeting must begin budget meetings by May 3 and end by May 25, with the council setting the final tax rate by June 9, said Burt.
The full budget proposal is available on bit.ly/grotonbudget 2022.
People can send their comments on the proposed budget to Council@groton-ct.gov.