The city Board of Aldermen approved $183.54 million for the city and school budgets Thursday night, a figure that adds roughly $763,000 to the Board of Finance’s budget proposed in March.
The board voted to add $2.23 million to the school budget, and several positions – a sanitarian, school nurse, police lieutenant, fire dispatcher and firefighter – were restored.
The budgets for fiscal year 2011-2012 passed in a nine to six vote.
Mayor James L. Richetelli Jr. believed the board voted on a bipartisan basis.
“This was not party-line voting,” he said.
The adopted budget, approximately an $8 million - or 4 percent - increase in spending from the current fiscal year, will result in a 1.58 percent tax increase for residents, according to Richetelli.
The current mill rate of 28.44 will rise to 28.89 for the coming fiscal year. That .45 difference will add another $76 in taxes each year for a typical home, Richetelli said.
Richetelli believed the adopted tax rate was reasonable, and would “preserve the core basic services the city provides.”
One of those core services is education. The Board of Aldermen approved $1.1 million more in spending than the Board of Finance proposed, an increase made possible by the $1.5 million allocated to Milford in the state Education Cost Sharing (ECS) grant.
Use of the grant had come under fire when residents at previous budget hearings accused the mayor of potentially allocating the grant money to the city side, an idea that Alderman Pamela Staneski, R-5, said was never an issue.
“This shows we value education,” she said.
Still, the school system faces $900,000 in cuts, though if the Board of Finance’s proposal had passed, those cuts would have totaled $1.9 million.
“The aldermen giving us $2.23 million helps immensely,” said Dr. Elizabeth Feser, the new superintendent of public schools.
The Board of Education will discuss ways to address the cuts – including losing positions - at Monday’s meeting, Feser said.
Alderman Brian Bier, R-1, emphasized the difficult decisions that go into budget making.
“There are a lot of cuts we’re looking to make,” he said. “Tough cuts, not easy cuts. I’m not here to do what’s best for me, but to make the tough decisions for everybody.”
But the budget wasn’t all about cuts. The Board of Aldermen voted to restore the position of a school nurse, which the Board of Finance had proposed to eliminate.
This was a victory not only for the nurses, according to Alderman Raymond Vitali, R-5, but “for the safety of the kids at our schools.”
Other big-ticket items that moved from the Board of Finance’s chopping block to the Board of Aldermen’s adopted budget included:
– the board voted to add $10,000 to the Board of Finance’s proposed budget for the library, to hire seasonal temporary workers to maintain its current hours, which includes remaining open on Saturdays.
The $10,000 will not restore the lost historian position, but Richetelli promised it was his “intention to keep the library open on Saturday.”
Some members of the board were skeptical that the $10,000 would be enough to maintain the library’s current hours. Alderman Nick Vecchiarelli Jr., D-2, wanted “more of a reassurance” the library would remain open, especially as a resource to those searching for jobs.
“People looking for jobs also want us to keep taxes down,” said Chairman Greg Smith, R-2.
– While the Board of Finance had originally proposed to cut a police lieutenant’s position left open by retirement, but the Board of Alderman voted to add roughly $75,000 to keep the position.
– The Board of Aldermen also voted to add approximately $52,000 and $39,000 to maintain a firefighter position and a dispatcher for the fire department, respectively.
Health – Another $61,400 was added to restore a sanitarian position that would have been cut by the Board of Finance’s proposal.
While the board both made and restored major cuts to spending, Alderman Ben Blake, D-5, felt there were better ways to balance the budget.
“The taxpayers need more of a break,” he said.