In a special Town Council meeting on March 10, Town Manager Sean Kimball presented a $125,693,140 million operating budget for the upcoming 2022-2023 fiscal year. The request is a $3.5 million increase from last year, or 2.93%.
Kimball walked the Town Council and the public through the budget process and provided context.
“First and foremost, it bears mentioning that as we’ve come through the COVID-19 pandemic these past two years, we’ve had very small mill rate increases, if any,” Kimball said. “In fiscal year 2021 we did not have any mill rate or tax increase. We did rely on $2 million of fund equity that year, which was supported by the fiscal year 2020 budget surplus we had through the operations that spring...”
Kimball said last year his proposed budget was only a .5 mill rate increase, and the Town was able to rely on American Rescue Plan Act funds to help bolster general fund revenue ($1.4 million) and the Board of Education medical trust fund ($1.5 million).
“The Board of Education budget for fiscal year 2023 is $4.1 million more than the budget that was adopted in May of last year,” Kimball said. “...As the Council is well aware, the BOE budget drivers are continued insurance claim experience and medical trust fund challenges, but also growing enrollment. Currently, their enrollment as of today is 4,113 students, which is a number that was not projected to hit until the 2025-2026 school year.”
Kimball also mentioned that Cheshire ranks 27th lowest in the state for unemployment, which is at roughly 3%. The state’s average unemployment rate is 4%.
“Cheshire, really through the pandemic, has fared very well in the employment realm,” Kimball said. “...And in the news just today, the inflationary economic environment is certainly going to be presenting challenges as we look forward in this budget. A lot of these department requests came to me a little over a month ago, we’ve refined and modified some of them, but just gasoline and diesel is up about $82,000 in our budget.”
This year’s proposed budget will result in a mill rate increase of 1.28 mills, for a total of 35 mills. It would increase taxes by $298 per resident, or $24.67 per month.
“The department of education makes up the largest percentage of town expenditures, at 64.53 percent,” Kimball said. “Administrative and finance includes employee benefits and everything else at 11.8 percent and public safety is at 6.81 percent of the towns expenditures.”
Kimball added that the town has hired a number of new employees this year, including Town Planner Mike Glidden and new Building Official Tom Lozer.
“The overall budget increase is $3,575,314, or 2.93 percent,” he said. “...for the parts of the budget that I am responsible for, the largest line item is for contractual salaries, positions, and social security. We’ve just recently funded a new town engineer position, which contributes to that cost.”
Kimball then explained to the Council the public safety radio contract renewal, and added that Police Chief Neil Dryfe would have more logistical information during his budget presentation. The renewal will cost $198,300.
“In two fiscal appropriations in November of 2016 and November of 2017, the town supported a much needed and really critical public safety radio contract,” he said. “That project totaled a little over $4.5 million and it was recently completed in the past year. This really upgrades our entire system to be more reliable. All new radios, handheld radios, in-car radios, in-school bus radios, and provides the ability for us to communicate reliably across all departments.”
Kimball then announced the schedule of upcoming budget workshops, the first of which will be virtual, and scheduled for Tuesday, March 15 at 6 p.m. This workshop will include a review of employee benefits, general services, administrative and finance, the Town Attorney, and Public Health.