Ansonia Inches ‘Worst Case Scenario’ Budget Forward

ethan fry photo Between now and Tuesday, an Ansonia finance official will try to trim about $164,000 from the city’s $61.7 million proposed budget in an effort to avoid a tax increase.

And the city’s lawyer will try to discuss with school officials how to figure out how to budget possible insurance savings to the satisfaction of all parties.

The moves came during an Ansonia Board of Aldermen finance committee meeting Thursday in Ansonia City Hall.

In Ansonia, the full Board of Aldermen has final say over the budget, but the finance subcommittee makes a recommendation to the full board.

The subcommittee voted Thursday 4-3 to move the budget forward.

But members said they want to meet Tuesday to take another swing at the proposed spending plan for the next fiscal year.

Time is running out for the city. The new fiscal year starts July 1.

The full Board of Aldermen is scheduled to meet 7 p.m. Tuesday (June 13) in City Hall.

The Proposed Budget

According to a copy of the spending plan handed to the Valley Indy after the subcommittee meeting, the mill rate would increase from 37.32 to 37.5363.

That means a person with a house assessed at $150,000 would see their taxes go up about 30 bucks.

It’s been a tough budget season in Ansonia. The grand list is increasing, but not as fast as expenses such as health care, union contracts and mandated education costs.

During Thursday’s finance committee meeting, two camps among the subcommittee emerged.

The committee’s chairman, Charles Stowe, and Phil Tripp, who is the Board of Aldermen’s president, advised voting on the “worst case scenario” budget to which they’ve been making adjustments for months. They were joined by Aldermen Richard Kaslaitis and Randolph Carroll.

Those four voted to move the budget forward.

Three others — Joseph Jaumann, Joshua Shuart, and Joseph Jeanette — wanted more of a “wait and see on the state budget” approach.

Governing is Connecticut has a fundamental flaw in that municipalities must have budgets in place before the state. Meanwhile, the political parties on the state level blow their own deadlines.

Ansonia relies heavily on state funding because it is an economically distressed city.

Jaumann, Shuart and Jeanette suggested the finance committee vote on a “continuing resolution.”

The idea was to have city department heads work with the same budget numbers they had for 2016-2017.

That could be a placeholder for a few weeks as the state finalizes its spending.

After two hours of discussing the merits of both approaches, the committee voted 4-3 to move forward with the “worst case scenario” model.

Some Details

The budget — if passed as is — would deliver some hefty cuts to some city departments.

Recreation spending would decrease more than 20 percent, from $127,974 to $101,244, for example. About $55,000, or 0.89 percent, was trimmed from the police budget. The library, where Mayor David Cassetti had proposed cutting 75 percent earlier in the process, would get about $27,335 less than this year, a reduction of about 5.5 percent.

The budget would take more than $4 million from the city’s fund balance to stabilize the mill rate, the fourth straight year the city’s bank account would be tapped for year-to-year revenue.

Thomas Thompson, a budget consultant for the city, said that would leave the fund balance at about $4.3 million.

“That’s very dangerous,” Thompson said. “You’re getting way too low.”

The school district would receive $31.9 million under the plan, the same number approved by the tax board.

The school district’s bottom line has been the biggest question mark throughout the budget process, and still is.

With more than half of the school board’s budget coming in the form of state aid, the uncertainty over the state budget has put local officials on edge.

On the one hand, majority Ansonia Republicans were elected — and re-elected — promising no tax increases, making them unlikely to vote for millions more in local taxpayer money for the schools.

But at the same time, they don’t want to be responsible for sheaves of pink slips going out to teachers.

School officials have already cut 16 positions for next year, which will result in at least nine layoffs.

School Board Meeting

Meanwhile, at a school board meeting Wednesday, leaders of the teachers union and a handful of parents criticized the way the school board is managing its money.

The union’s president, Mathew Hough, said many teachers were upset this week to learn that the school district planned to add an administrative position — by moving the vice principal of Prendergast School to the high school, and then filling the vacant position at Prendergast.

“We went around telling them we did everything we possibly could do to help,” Hough said of the teachers whose positions were cut. “And then this week a posting came out for another position, which many teachers were devastated by.”

Hough said a large group of teachers approached him Wednesday and asked him to read a statement to the school board:

“The Teachers of the Ansonia want to know how the Ansonia Board of Education is able to add another administrative position at the high school when they have eliminated nine teaching positions for the upcoming school year and have laid off four teachers. In the past two years 17 teaching positions have been eliminated. This is not in the best interest of the teachers or the schools.”

Note: After this story was published, Hough posted a comment noting the number of teaching positions eliminated for next year is eight, not nine, and 16 for the past two years.

Hough said morale among teachers in the school district is “probably at an all-time low.”

“We’re running out of places to cut,” he said. “There’s nothing left.”

The school board did not address the union’s concerns during the meeting.

Later in the meeting Superintendent Carole Merlone said that the new administrative hire was part of a plan put in place last year and could end up moving between buildings.

“Decisions haven’t been finished yet,” she said.

The Valley Indy reached out for additional comment from school officials Thursday through email.

In a Facebook post on an Ansonia community page, Hough, the union president, urged parents to follow the budget process, which is quickly drawing to a close.

“These cuts will have an effect on every student who attends school in Ansonia. If this information concerns you, please express your concerns at public meetings, be it the board of education or the board of alderman. The schools need to be adequately funded. Ansonia is near the bottom in per pupil spending, a fact that none of us should be proud of. We need to support and protect our most important asset, our children.”


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