Doubts about whether the town manager’s projected savings on health insurance for teachers and school administrators in next year’s budget were realistic has led the town council to restore much of the board of education’s original spending request as part of the $51 million budget proposal that will come before voters in May.
After a little tinkering with Town Manager Steven Werbner’s recommended budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1, the town council Tuesday evening adopted a spending proposal that includes $35.14 million for education and $10.82 million for government operations. Add in debt service of roughly $4.75 million and capital spending of $335,501, the total budget plan reaches $51,041,662.
Under current revenue projections, the town’s property tax rate for the next fiscal year will be 30.28 mills. This would require property owners to pay $3,028 in tax on each $100,000 of assessed property value. Under Werbner’s budget proposal the tax rate would have been 29.99 mills.
The current mill rate is 29.15 mills. If the council’s budget plan were adopted by residents as is during a day long referendum on May 3, the percentage increase in property taxes would be 3.88 percent over the current level.
Looking for a way to hold the line on property taxes, Werbner had recommended cutting $1.38 million from the , which had been a 6.53 percent increase over the current approved schools budget of $33.8 million. To realize the savings, Werbner had suggested these employees switch to a high deductible insurance plan similar to the one that now covers town hall employees.
Since a high deductible insurance plan, also known as a health savings account HSA plan, is currently available to the teachers and administrators and so few have opted to reenroll in them, town council members questioned the likelihood that participation would reach 81 percent which is the level Werbner estimated was required to reach his projected level of savings.
“I’d rather not pin the budget on a hope,” Council Chairman Frederick Daniels said referring to the unknowns about teacher and administrator participation in an HSA plan.
If council members adopted Werbner’s bottom line and the insurance savings didn’t happen, the school board would be forced to look for the savings elsewhere in the budget. While towns determine the size of the education budget, how that money is spent is left up to the school board.
Werbner artfully dodged Councilwoman April Teveris’s question whether the council’s changes met with his approval. Werbner said the changes were policy decisions which are the purview of the council. Werbner said his job is to give advice.
Werbner did, however, issue a caveat.
“There must be close monitoring” of the budget in the coming year, Werbner said, because of the economic downturn that has threatened state aid to municipalities and cut into other revenues including building permit fees.
“If just five percent of the teachers move to the HSA we will have the same problem next year,” Werbner said.
The council’s budget will be presented to residents on April 26 in advance of the day long budget referendum on May 3. Voting by paper ballot will be from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the .