The Farmington Town Council set budget targets for the 2013-14 fiscal year in a range of a 2 to 3 percent spending increase over this year at its meeting Tuesday night.
The range, very similar to last year’s budget target and the actual increase for the past few years, differs somewhat from previous years in that it is not a percent increase over the tax rate.
Council members decided more or less unanimously to set the target for both the town and the Board of Education of 2-3 percent increase in expenditures.
The council’s newest member, Amy Suffredini, who joined the council that night, asked for clarification on why the council sets budget targets in January, when even the town manager has not yet reviewed the town’s actual needs.
“Traditionally, the council acts by charter as the chief policy-making authority in town and also as its chief fiscal authority to give guidance on the budget both to the town manager and the board of education as well,” explained Council Chairman Jeff Hogan.
But the council has used different methods of setting targets in past years. Some years it has set a target for increase of the tax rate for both the town and schools. Other years it has focused on expenditures and not set a target for the schools.
This year is unique, Town Manager Kathy Eagen said, because the town will face implementation of property revaluation. That will likely change the tax distribution and the mill rate, making it difficult to set a tax rate increase as the council has in previous years.
To give council members some starting place, Eagen, who rarely directs the council on how much money it should spend, said that she was hopeful she could maintain current services with an increase of 2 to 3 percent.
“Our contracts are anywhere between 2 and a high 2 percent, so to maintain services is in the mid-2 range. Also, we’ve talked about how over the last couple of years we have not been funding some accounts in the maintenance area – playgrounds, recreation, Tunxis Mead… I would really like to see that we can improve our service level there,” Eagen said. “We need to start funding a little bit more than what we have in the past."
Eagen also mentioned the capital improvement budget – separate from the town’s operating budget – which includes things like roofs, roads and large equipment. A few months earlier Eagen gave the council a presentation charting the town’s spending on capital improvement over the past few years. While the spending spiked and dipped, it rarely met a town policy adopted in 2005 to fund capital improvement at 2.5 percent of the total budget.
This year, Eagen said, she would recommend following the policy and councilors Patty Stoddard and Nancy Nickerson confirmed they council had directed her to do so.
A meeting to discuss the capital improvement plan will be held Jan. 22.