The Board of Finance is expected to set the final 2020-21 budget when it meets this Tuesday, June 2 at 7 p.m. The Board of Selectmen authorized it to do so, in accordance with Protection of Public Health and Safety during COVID-19 Pandemic and Response – Municipal Budget Adoption, Common-Interest Community Meetings
First Selectman David Bindelglass fought hard to achieve permission from the state to hold a referendum on Easton’s annual budget. But in an ongoing effort to protect public health and safety and mitigate the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, Governor Ned Lamont on May 1 issued Executive Order No. 7HH, banning any town meeting or referendum with the purpose of approving the budget.
Bindelglass said after learning of the the governor’s action, “I think it’s unfortunate that we can’t have a referendum, that people can’t decide on the budget. We have to adjust our plans as a result of the executive order, which definitively forbids us from having a referendum.”
Only the town of Vernon, which conducted drive-thru voting, held a budget referendum before Executive Order No. 7HH was enacted.
Easton’s 2020-21 budget generated lively and thoughtful discussion at the May 21 Board of Selectmen meeting. The board took issue with some of the reductions proposed by the Board of Finance after receiving comments from residents from April 1 to 30 and conducting department callbacks in early May.
The Board of Finance met May 11 and approved a proposed budget, subject to final authorization by the Board of Selectmen. The meeting is viewable on Facebook Live at Easton CT PTO or YouTube https://youtu.be/h83FtHSGL8s
At the May 21 Board of Selectmen’s meeting, Selectman Robert Lessler expressed his disappointment with the $13,000 slashed for part-time work at the library. He called what amounts to $4 per household “a foolish cut.”
Lessler was also displeased with the proposed education cuts, and recommended that the board use the expected monies from the larger than expected return of funds from the local and Region 9 boards of education to restore those cuts. The Board of Finance has proposed that the cuts go toward eliminating three teachers at the elementary school, which would have the effect of raising the minimum class size to 22 per grade.
Lessler furthered advocated for reducing the undesignated fund balance (currently at about 17% of the budget, claiming it to be the largest in history) to no more than 12%, and applying the amount to lower the mill rate.
Both Bindelglass and Selectman Sogofsky made known their disapproval of the proposed budget, with Sogofsky bemoaning that the board may be “delaying the inevitable.” Ultimately, Lessler abstained from approving the budget in its present form, hoping that the Board of Finance incorporates the suggested revisions into the final budget.
In the end, the board had no choice but to authorize the Board of Finance to approve a final budget and set the mill rate, in accordance with Executive Order 7HH.
Visit the EastonCT. gov website to see the agenda for the Board of Finance June 2 meeting, along with instructions on how to watch it live, once it has been posted.