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Finance Board Holds Spending Hike to Just Over 1% ... So Far

Votes to close Chalk Hill and adds $99,134 to municipal spending. Board of Education budget is on deck for Thursday.

Funding requests still must be considered, but with all the numbers yet to be crunched preliminary figures Tuesday show a 2012-13 town budget that limits increases in spending to 1.04 percent and taxes to 2.09 percent. Assuming a flat education budget and no more revisions, the mill rate in which individual tax bills are calculated would rise by 0.45 percent.

The Board of Education's $52.35 million budget proposal carrying a 1.79 percent increase will be voted on at Thursday night's workshop to be held in the Lecture Room of Chalk Hill School at 7 p.m. But the finance board still discussed it Tuesday.

Board of Finance Chairman Mark Reed and fellow board member Michael Manjos had recently spoken before the Board of Education on their own and suggested a way to bring the spending increase down to zero.

Approximately $550,000 in rollover enterprise funds could offset a cut by the same amount and at least $400,000 could come out of a medical reserve that is overfunded, according to Manjos and Reed.

"[Board of Education Chairman] Darrell Trump is fine with it. Do you want to do it tonight?" Reed said of taking the schools' budget increase to zero. "[Board of Education member] Jeff [Guttman] is fine with it. [Supt. of Schools James] Agostine is fine with it."

Though the Board of Finance will not deliberate on the Board of Education budget until Thursday, Reed suggested taking a straw poll to see who would support a zero percent increase.

Reed, Manjos and Scott Ownes said they would support it, but the board's two Democrats, Ted Quinlan and John Ostaszewski, held out for more information.

The Medical Reserve

Quinlan asked if other town school districts have enterprise funds. Reed said Agostine "wants to use the whole thing and get rid of this."

"He wants that gone," Manjos said. "He thinks it's not transparent and he doesn't want to operate like that. I respect that."

Quinlan talked about the importance of having an adequate reserve to cover medical claims. "We want to look at it and make sure we agree [on the right number] and not just to get it down to zero."

"Oh absolutely," Reed.

Manjos said the Board of Education could keep a medical reserve at 25 percent and the town could keep a $300,000 reserve. If the medical reserve falls and stays below 20 percent for three consecutive months, the town could bring the funding back up to 20 percent.

Steve Kirsch, who attends all of the Board of Education meetings, was at the Board of Finance Budget workshop. He asked if the town funding would automatically kick in.

"That's how I want it to be," Manjos replied.

"It has to be," Kirsch said.

Manjos said it would be easy to do in the first year, but that the finance board would have to work with education officials next year to set a number for the medical reserve, which would then have a history of claims to look at. He agreed with Ownes that it would probably have to go up.

Chalk Hill Costs Higher

Angela Cross, a parent, spoke during a public input portion of the workshop to ask that the Board of Education budget not be cut and that Chalk Hill School not be closed. But during the meeting finance board members agreed to mothball Chalk Hill.

"I don't want to kill it, but where are the justifications to keep it open?" Quinlan asked. "It would be nice, but I don't see a plan."

Since being turned over to the town by the Board of Education, the Parks & Recreation Department and the Monroe Early Learning Center moved into the building. The Monroe Volunteer Emergency Medical Service also holds training courses there.

But revenue from Parks & Recreation programs and the daycare center falls about $300,000 short of what it costs to keep Chalk Hill open, according to First Selectman Steve Vavrek.

The cost of "mothballing" Chalk Hill had been estimated at $150,000, but Vavrek brought revised numbers to the Board of Finance workshop Tuesday showing it would actually cost $210,000. One reason, he said, is that instead of keeping the temperature between 45 and 48 degrees, it must be between 65-68 degrees because a pipe had burst in the winter when the thermostat was in the 40s.

Reed said he saw no numbers to back up the $210,000 estimate.

Vavrek pointed out that not all of the potential for revenue at Chalk Hill has been realized and that Frances Cooper, the new Parks & Recreation director the town is hiring, has experience running a community center in Hamden.

Manjos said the town should wait for the results of a $75,000 study of all town buildings to be done before deciding on Chalk Hill's future. That funding is in the budget proposal.

Reed said Chalk Hill can be mothballed for now and if there is a viable plan months later, the building could be reopened.

By the Numbers

During a Tuesday night workshop, board members' revisions to the budget proposal amounted to a $99,134 increase to municipal spending over what the Town Council had approved. But a more accurate debt service figure came in $465,659 lower than the previous number.

The proposed town side of the budget currently stands at $18,692,362 and debt service at $5,224,369. Town revenue is projected at $11.9 million.

However, the Board of Finance had decided against using $360,000 from the undesignated fund balance to allow the EMS to start its own paramedic service. Reed said he would email EMS Commission Chairman Dennis Condon to ask him to make a presentation to add the seed money to the operating budget on Thursday. The finance board would then have to decide whether or not to do it.

There will also be an executive session with Human Resources to discuss salaries that night. The session, which is closed to the public, will be held at the beginning of the meeting, according to Reed.

If the budget were approved with Tuesday night's preliminary numbers, it would be a $77.8 million town budget funded by $6.58 million in taxes. The mill rate would rise from 28.79 to 28.92 mills.

QWERTY March 14, 2012 at 03:12 PM
Why not drain the pipes inside Chalk Hill, cut the water service and turn off the heat entirely?
monroe taxpayer March 14, 2012 at 03:50 PM
Since when does water freeze in the 40's? Sounds like an insulation problem which wastes fuel. I agree drain the water and turn off the heat. We really need to spend $75,000 on a study to see how use it? That in itself is a waste. I am sure with enough time we will find a way to use the space, but I do not see that until the economy and housing market improves? It is usually less expensive to remodel rather then to build entirely new, so I would hold off on demolition. That will keep our options open if our needs increase.
Thesaurus March 14, 2012 at 04:16 PM
Show fortitude - Pulverize Chalk Hill NOW - Cease the use of Monroe L as a school and designate it a community center
Ride the lightning March 14, 2012 at 04:47 PM
@Thesaurus - really? Where do you propose we put all the children at Monroe Elementary? The anti-education group (aka Citizen audit committee) use the fire code capacity to argue that 1,000 kids could squeeze into Stepney. However, that is not based on reality. Right now the elementary schools are using closet space to work with small groups of kids and our class sizes across all three schools is about 25. You also have to look at special education, art, music, room for specialists, office space for professionals...If you feel you have an argument to make use facts. Anti-education people outline their argument then cherry pick their "numbers" to match their argument.
Bill Bittar (Editor) March 14, 2012 at 05:58 PM
Thursday's Board of Finance workshop will now be in the lecture room of Chalk Hill. It will still begin at 7 p.m.
Alex March 14, 2012 at 06:33 PM
You make a very good point that I was thinking too, but there could be a logical reason. When I've heard of buildings being mothballed in the past, that means they would drain the pipes and either fill the oil furnace to the top (to prevent rust), or if they think a new heating system would be installed when re-opened then they would drain it / close the gas line. Anyone know why we are going to pump heat into a building no one will be in? If the service company conducting the mothball said it was necessary I'd like to know what's different here?
Ride the lightning March 14, 2012 at 06:35 PM
@Alex - there is some type of law or code that requires the town to keep the building at a certain temperature. I believe that someone from town will be required to check on the building once a day.
Alex March 14, 2012 at 06:53 PM
You don't think that's a bit extreme? I think Monroe will need the building eventually and then what would we do? Build another one? That to me seems wasteful.
Alex March 14, 2012 at 08:28 PM
Interesting. Yeah checking up on the building would be necessary, but is that the reason we need to keep it heated? Or is there a CT law that states that? Residential properties can be mothballed and have their pipes drained so there's certainly no code that prevents this in general on properties, but perhaps on town properties? If this is a town mandated policy then I would have to disagree with it.
Thesaurus March 14, 2012 at 09:09 PM
@Alex-interesting perspective.I doubt anyone has pursued it.
Steve Kirsch March 15, 2012 at 05:05 AM
A while back two options were discussed regarding what state to leave Chalk Hill in if it was not to be used for some time. Option 1, which people are calling moth ball, is to leave the building with a minimal environmental level. This is to turn down the heat, but leave all the HVAC active. Someone would have to check on the building at least once day. Option 2, which I think was called hibernation, was to drain all the systems, turn off all utilities and physically close the building. Hibernation had a greater one-time shut down cost as well as a larger re-start cost. It also had the risk that old systems once shut down would not restart without some breakage, adding to future costs. However the biggest concern of hibernation is the possibility of internal environmental damage such as mold growth. Therefore hibernation was too be avoided.
jim laguardia March 15, 2012 at 01:41 PM
how ironic is that??
PlumbBob March 17, 2012 at 01:10 AM
$75,000 for a study? Has anyone questioned that? I'd like to get more details about that so the cost can be justified. I would have to guess that fee is probably equal to about 2-3 years worth of heating the building.

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