The Farmington Town Council adopted its 2013-14 budget Saturday with only a few minor changes to the town manager’s recommendation and after only a few hours of discussion.
The council passed the budget unanimously with a 1.87 percent spending increase, including a 1.96 percent increase on the school side, a 2.51 percent increase on the town side and $2.5 million total in capital expenditures.
The increase in spending was balanced out with a significant decrease in debt service and a slight increase in both non-tax revenue and taxes – though some taxpayers will see a decrease in taxes should the budget pass as proposed.
The council’s recommended budget now goes forward to residents, first at a public hearing on April 8 at 7 p.m. at the Town Hall and then at the Annual Town Meeting April 22 at 7 p.m. in the Farmington High School Auditorium. The referendum vote is scheduled for May 2. For a full schedule, click here.
The proposed budget also includes three bonding questions for Farmington residents – all capital projects officials say have been neglected for years.
The first is to replace the boiler at Irving A Robbins Middle School for $1.1 million. The boiler dates back to 1958 and is both falling apart and outdated, Superintendent of Schools Kathleen Greider said. Parts are no longer available and school officials are afraid the equipment will stop working at any time.
The second is to bond $1.37 million for three other projects at IAR. Initially, Town Manager Kathy Eagen recommended bundling the boiler along with the IAR projects but council members agreed that the boiler was more likely to pass at referendum if presented alone.
The three projects include a replacement of the middle school tennis courts, a redesign and renovation of the school parking lot and an emergency generator that would allow the town to use the school as an emergency shelter. Though Farmington High School serves as the town’s primary emergency shelter, the last few storms have caused floodwaters to rise over Route 4, making the high school inaccessible to some residents. The council considers IAR a viable emergency shelter, should FHS be cut off by water, or as a secondary shelter for residents on the east side of town.
The third bonding question is to allocate $3 million for road improvements in town. Funding for road repair has not been approved since 2010. Since then, money has run out and work has stopped on the town’s roads.
The only change in the Town Council’s adopted budget from the Town Manager’s recommended budget is in the assignment of $110,000 intended by Eagen to be set aside for Town Hall improvements.
Instead of setting the money aside for Town Hall, the council voted to shift the money to the Board of Education’s cash account for a few late requests the board presented as urgent at its joint meeting with the council Tuesday evening.
The board missed its normally scheduled meeting with the Town Council on expected capital expenditures and, according to Board of Education Chairman Mary Grace Reed, requested the most minimal capital plan, focusing on technology needed for state testing requirements. When members heard at the Monday public hearing on the budget that the council had asked Eagen to present a capital request representative of the town’s actual need and in line with the council’s funding policy, they told the council of some additional needs they would have included.
The late requests included additional computing devices for the online state assessments (being field tested in 2013-14 and mandatory in 2014-15), replacement for school furniture dating back to the 1960s and 70s and upgrades to the Farmington High School auditorium, including house lighting, ceiling tiles and acoustical improvements.
For more information on the 2013-14 budget, click here.