Ansonia Mayor David Cassetti has proposed a budget to Aldermen he hopes they don’t have to pass.
The $63 million spending plan for 2017-2018 keeps taxes level but contains a number of painful cuts that the mayor said will be avoided only if the city receives more education funding from the state.
Cassetti’s budget include a 75 percent cut to in the city’s library.
The organization’s board of directors said in a guest column published by the Valley Indy Wednesday that the cut, if passed, would “effectively close” the building.
The guest column triggered about 40 comments from readers, who implored the mayor to look elsewhere for cuts.
Cassetti’s proposal would cut the library’s budget from $495,006 to $122,660, at a loss of seven full-time positions.
City officials said the library could rely on part-time help to stay open two days per week.
Even then services would be bare bones, the library’s director, Mary Ann Capone, said.
“At that point it would just be basic services offered, checking in and checking out books, making library cards,” she said. “There would no one here to select new materials — books and DVDs. There would be no one here to maintain the computers.”
Capone pointed out that the library’s current budget is less than 1 percent of the city’s annual spending. She said she expected to see a reduction proposed, but the 75 percent figure was “totally unexpected.”
“I’ve been hitting my head against the wall since I heard about this,” Capone said.
Cassetti blamed the potential cuts on increasing education costs, particularly special education.
Special education costs can add up if a child needs to be transported out of the district because the school doesn’t have the resources to handle educating the child. Special education can also refer to kids who ran into legal trouble and can’t attend their home district.
It’s a difficult item to budget, because the number of students fluctuates from year to year.
Ansonia has been banging the drum about special education costs of late, even hosting a forum entirely dedicated to the issue last month.
“The truth is that our city faces a challenge in the rising cost of public education, and in particular the skyrocketing of special education costs in our city,” Cassetti said during an Aldermen meeting Feb. 14.
The mayor’s comments to Aldermen Tuesday echoed remarks made by school officials at last month’s forum.
The school board, meanwhile, is seeking a 2.6 percent increase to their budget.
School officials said the percentage increased to 4 percent earlier this week when the Aldermen and the school board worked out a different way to track the state’s “special education excess cost grant.”
Click here to learn more about the proposed school budget and the new accounting.
Article continues after the school district’s budget proposal.
Help Us, Obi-Wan Malloy
With public outcry building over the library cuts, the city’s Republicans are now lobbying residents to support Gov. Malloy’s proposed budget, which — if it was adopted — would see more education dollars coming to Ansonia.
About $4 million more, according to Malloy’s proposal.
Malloy isn’t exactly popular with Connecticut Republicans, a fact the local GOP concedes in a spate of recent Facebook posts:
“The Ansonia Republicans and Mayor David S. Cassetti call upon our residents and state representatives to strongly support the Governor’s fair funding proposal for Ansonia and school districts in similar situations,” the Ansonia GOP wrote in one Facebook post.
If those additional dollars don’t come to Ansonia, the mayor said, the city won’t be able to avoid steep cuts to a number of city departments — which Cassetti repeatedly told Aldermen he doesn’t want to see come to fruition.
“The cuts that you see in this draft are not desired. They are not wanted,” Cassetti told Aldermen during their meeting Tuesday. “But in the event the state does not pull through with a fair funding allocation this year, they will be necessary to achieve our goals by supporting education while also protecting our taxpayers.”
Click the play button on the video at the top of this story to see Cassetti’s remarks during Tuesday’s Aldermen’s meeting. The mayor’s speech about the budget begins about 4 minutes in.
Other cuts include a $31,031 reduction in the mayor’s office budget. The mayor said he’ll forego a $3,000 raise he was due to receive this year, and that he’ll also leave the position of constituent services director vacant when its current occupant, Richard Dziekan, leaves next month to run for mayor of Derby.
The Ansonia Rescue Medical Services would receive about $40,000 less than this year’s budget, and the city’s fire marshal and fire department would receive $2,431 and $5,800 less, respectively.
Elsewhere, the budget would take just over $4 million of dollars from the city’s reserves to keep the tax rate the same, a step Democrats have for years criticized as short-sighted.
During an interview last week Cassetti said he wouldn’t take any more money out of the fund balance unless it will remain above 10 percent of the annual budget.
“I’m not going to take any more out of the fund balance because that will hurt our bond rating,” Cassetti said. “I don’t want that to happen.”
The Valley Indy reached out for comment to the chairman of the local Democratic party Thursday.
A handful of departments would receive increases under Cassetti’s budget, including:
- $8,601, or 4.21 percent, for the nature center
- $12,840, or 8.53 percent, for the senior center
- $18,250, or 63.6 percent, for the city engineer’s office
- $33,359, or 12.86 percent, for the building inspector
- $33,382, or 0.54 percent, for the police department
- $10,421, or 5.08 percent, for the tax department
- $104,492, or 2.59 percent, for public works
- $25,701, or 6.83 percent, for the town and city clerk
Overall the bottom line would be $63,014,884, which is down 1.74 percent, or $1,113,485, from last year.
The mayor’s entire budget proposal is posted below.
It’s still early in the budget process, the mayor noted in his remarks to Aldermen.
While he said he hopes the state comes through with millions more for the city, he said he had to assume that won’t happen.
“This budget is far from done. I am committed to ensuring that this worst case scenario budget does not come to pass,” Cassetti said. “I will fight along with you and for you to find a better way. Yet as Ansonia’s chief elected official it is my job to give an honest, sober assessment of what may be necessary.”
The city’s Board of Apportionment and Taxation is reviewing the mayor’s proposal and will make its own suggestions for changes after deliberations scheduled for 6 p.m. at City Hall on the evenings of Feb. 21, Feb. 22, Feb. 27, March 1, and March 6.
The Board of Aldermen’s finance committee will then hold workshops with officials before making their own recommendations.
The full Board of Aldermen has the final say on the budget.
The city’s charter gives the Aldermen until the end of April to finalize a spending plan, though last year they delayed the decision until late May.