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Tolland Budget Proposal Would Raise Taxes 2.88 Percent

Town Manager Steven Werbner recommended a $50.52 million budget to the town council to cover operating costs, education expenditures, health insurance premiums and additional police and fire expenses.

Tolland Town Manager Steven Werbner recommended a $50.52 million budget for fiscal year 2011-2012 to the Town Council Tuesday evening.

Should the recommended budget be adopted, the town's overall expenditure increases would be held to 2.45 percent over the current year with operating expenses for the town side of the budget seeing an increase of 1.98 percent, and the Board of Education portion increasing 2.45 percent. 

The 2.45 percent increase recommended for the schools is a reduction from the 6.53 percent increased requested by the Board of Education. Under Werbner's plan, the town education budget would receive $828,896 more than the current year.

The corresponding tax increase to residents would be 2.88 percent or a 0.84 mill increase to 29.99 mills.

A taxpayer with a property assessed in 2009 at $196,130 with an equivelent home value of $280,186 would pay $165 more in property tax annually, based on Werber's budget plan.

Werbner's report reflected the difficult challenges the town and school officials face with declining or flat revenues and ever-rising costs.

For example, Tolland's largest state grant for education, the Education Cost Sharing (ECS) grant, which is currently budgeted at $10.76 million and which in years prior to 2009 had been increased by approximately 5 percent per year, has not increased in the past two years. Funding is expected to remain flat for another two years. The ECS grant accounts for approximately one-third of the town's public education budget.

Additionally, although Tolland's October 2010 grand list rose 1.10 percent this year, largely due to the completion of the Star Hill Athletic Center in the Tolland Business Park, the increase is significantly lower than the 3 to nearly 4 percent increases seen in the early 2000s.

Tolland's grand list is not expected to increase substantially in the next few years.

Werbner said the significant increases in health insurance costs continue to be a major concern, with overall health benefitss expected to go up by 18 percent. The current family plan for health insurance for Board of Education employees presently costs $22,664 a year, Werbner said. 

Extrapolate the cost of health insurance another 5 years at current rate increases, Werbner said, and the amount could conceivably reach a point where health insurance exceeds the costs of salaries.

However, recommendations have been made to help mitigate the rising costs. Werbner said teachers and administrators have the option to switch from their current plan to a high deductible insurance plan (HSA), that is similar to the plan offered to town hall employees.

If all Board of Education employees elected this option, Werbner said the health insurance portion of the education budget would not need to be increased.

Werbner's report also noted that job demands in some areas of town government are becoming overstretched. He recommended the hire of a second in command or Deputy Fire Marshal to serve under the Fire Chief to help alleviate some of the workload of supervising paid and volunteer staff 24 hours a day.

The Water Commission and Water Pollution Control Authority also agreed to pool their funds, which are outside the town budget, to hire a 24-hour per week Engineering Assistant to work under the direction of the Town Engineer to help with technical responsibilities related to the two boards.

Additional costs to the town which are included in the recommended budget include $27,000 to tie Town Hall into the town's public sewer system, $38,103 for an increase in contract costs for Resident State Trooper services, and pay grade adjustments for the public safety supervisor and public works operations manager.

A copy of the complete budget overview may be obtained from Town Hall.

Luther Heggs March 19, 2011 at 07:02 PM
It's more than a percent. With the increase I'll be paying $8.500. In East Haddam (down near the shore where it is arguably nicer) a similar 2,800 sq ft house of the same age and acreage is about $5,200. THAT'S ALMOST 40% CHEAPER.
Max Headroom March 19, 2011 at 07:17 PM
Well, you jumped to yet another town from the ones you named, so it's hard to make a meaningful return argument. I'm sure there are people out there who choose a place to live by looking at the tax rolls first and everything else second; you appear to be at least partially of that mindset. I don't like paying any more taxes than I have to but unlike so many who expend so much vitriol on the topic, I'm not going to let tax rates make my lifestyle choices for me. Everywhere I'd consider worth living is in the upper third of tax rates; to me, it's not worth losing sleep or losing quality of live over the differences in that bracket. Unlike MANY places with equivalent or higher taxes, I see my tax dollars around me in Tolland. Compare that to many 10-11% bracket states where the money disappears into state general funds and is hard to find in even the highest-bracket communities. Being sweepingly, obsessively anti-tax is a lousy way to live life. It's like getting furious every time the wind blows.
Luther Heggs March 20, 2011 at 12:50 AM
I appreciate your point of view. It just that at the end of the year I total up all the taxes I pay and I can't help but ask myself "What am I getting for all this money? And why does it keep increasing $300 to $600 every year?". It just eats at me and I feel that the amount has breached the threshold of being worth it to. My kids are all grown and I'm not getting any services school related, so I've decided it's time to go. It's frustrating, but it's time.
Steven Jones March 20, 2011 at 01:39 AM
I think Luther the biggest problem for a lot of older tax payers in CT (my apologies if I am incorrect of your age) is that they are not reaping any benefits of the 2 recently built schools. I think building the pre-school, which was more advanced than the middle school at the time it was built and may still be, was very irresponsible. The high school though did deserve either a major face-lift, or a new facility to attract and properly hold a growing student population in Tolland. And I am under the impression we may be still paying off the costs of those two projects. So if you do not have elementary, middle, or high school aged kids in the town, you are probably wasting a lot of your town tax money to support others, whereas you could go to a town that maybe shares a school with other towns, and general services are a greater aspect of the tax collection. Sorry if this sounds repetitive as you stated a lot of this already. And while it is sad to loose anyone from out town, I would agree off of those financial arguments, moving to another town in CT might be a good decision.
Bill March 20, 2011 at 02:19 AM
Now we are finally getting to the route of the problem. We pay 75% (when I last calculated it) of all our taxes to fund the BOE and its projects. They won't tell you this though. They tell you only of the direct costs. They don't include the debt that also needs to be paid because of the High School and other project related to their spending. All in, we are paying 75 cents of every tax dollar for something related to the schools in this town. As a result, we are short changing many town projects and services that would be of benefit to the rest of the town or lower taxes. Bill
Luther Heggs March 20, 2011 at 02:42 AM
Maybe we should have two budgets we can vote on, one for the BOE and the other for all the rest.
Bill March 20, 2011 at 03:35 AM
We SHOULD have separate budgets that can be voted on. Unfortunately, legally, that cannot be done and the BOE uses that to their selfish advantage. I have been told it cannot be done. I don't remember if it is because of state law, or the town charter but not only can we not have the BOE budget broken out and voted on separately, no one, including the town manger can require, or force them to accept any changes to their budget. If you notice, the BOE virtually every year, disregards what he tries to cap the budget increase at.
Luther Heggs March 20, 2011 at 03:42 AM
Then at least they should itemize it separately on the actual ballot; how much for BoE and how much for the rest. An informed voter is a smarter voter. Telling us EXACTLY what we're voting on should not be illegal.
Steven Jones March 20, 2011 at 04:31 AM
Sorry, I meant to say a lot of taxpayers in Tolland, not all CT taxpayers, that is another story.
Josh Freeman March 20, 2011 at 08:14 PM
The proposed budget is online at http://www.tolland.org/2011-2012-budget-information-2/ I think copies are also available at Town Hall if needed - perhaps even in summary form. Cheers...
Max Headroom March 20, 2011 at 08:39 PM
Hmm. I think we have indeed found the root of the problem. (1) "Taxes are my personal bill for governmental services rendered to me." (2) "Taxes are my share of the cost of maintaining my community." Choose one... carefully.
SUSAN KINSLOE-BYERS March 21, 2011 at 05:26 PM
Don't forget that older/fixed income people paid for us when we went to school. Don't we owe it to the kids of tomorrow to do the same? My husband and I are on a fixed income, and budgets and taxes aren't known for going down. Not that we're thrilled about that aspect, but educating kids who someday will be running the country is important. You cant' keep doing that on an almost 0% increase for very long. I have carefully chosen #2.
Bill March 22, 2011 at 01:28 AM
Susan Kinsloe-Byers said "You cant' keep doing that on an almost 0% increase for very long." Actually, you can. You especially can when you have overpaid for years previous by significant amounts. The sense of entitlement by the BOE and its supporters seems to have no bounds. I expect that there will be some bill associated with living in town. What I don't expect is to be paying for is a small, selfish, special interest group to fund their wish to have a private school education by forcing everyone else in the town to pick up the cost.
Max Headroom March 22, 2011 at 02:45 AM
Since when are good schools a "small special interest group"? Schools are the engine of a local economy in the long run. When the schools degrade, families move away or (especially in a rural area with few other things to attract new families) stop moving there. Families with school age children are the core of many things, the tax base for starters. So having crummy schools means a years-long spiral into an economic slump that can be nearly impossible to break. Excellent schools, on the other hand, become a magnet for quality residents in their earning, producing, contributing and taxpaying prime. I've paid a helluva lot of taxes over the last two decades, and frankly I resent that a lot of them go to a selfish special interest group... retirees. :)
Luther Heggs March 22, 2011 at 11:54 AM
Actually retirees (and recent empty nesters) are the EXACT type of residents you'd want to attract. The only town services they require is snow plowing and garbage pickup. How much is Tolland paying per student now? It's gotta be over $7,000, not to mention all the interest on the borrowed millions to build that new school and upgrade the old. And statistics consistently show that families with children cost far more in services than they pay.
Bill March 22, 2011 at 02:24 PM
75% of the town budget goes to 25% of its residents. By definition that is a small, special interest group. We spend tremendous amounts of money on our school system. Show me, that money is reflected in grossly higher scores. There is no study that has been able to show ANY correlation between the amount of money spent and the quality of the education. There is no such correlation in Tolland. And as far as retirees. I understand you think it was tongue in cheek but, retirees, payed for everything you see in this town, for the last thirty, forty, fifty years and more. They are not a special interest group, they are the foundation that the town was built. And no, I am not a retiree, but, I do think they deserve a little more respect.
Max Headroom March 22, 2011 at 04:59 PM
Bill, schools are expensive - good schools are expensive up front, bad schools are expensive down the road. Perhaps this is a matter of looking at the budget backwards. Tolland doesn't have high costs in many of the areas that other towns and cities do, so an adequate to good school budget looks out of proportion. I think you're off base about "special interest group" here as well - sounds as if you'd choose option number one above, in that only those with kids in school should have to pay for the schools (even though the entire community benefits from having excellent schools). Just because any one group is a subset of the community - school families, retirees, whatever - doesn't make them a "special interest group." Luther, the notion that retirees are perfect residents applies only if you look at government from a business model - of course every business wants customers that provide income without requiring much in return. However, the government-as-business model is nonsense on several levels, and a community is not healthy, stable or vibrant with only one kind of community member - especially a prevalence of elders and retirees. It takes a mix of types, and "community" means we all contribute to the whole, not selfishly guard our own interests at the expense of all else.
Bill March 22, 2011 at 05:40 PM
Max, “Tolland doesn’t have the high costs in many areas that other towns and cities do” is a great quote. We have been shortchanging the towns operating budget for at least the last 10 years. The towns operating groups constantly hold down their spending to the requests of the town manager and the BOE because the of the autonomous way it operates never holds it spending at the levels that are requested and again, it accounts for 75% of the budget. All the other residents should be furious with how much money is going and continuing to go to the BOE while the operating towns budget is repeatedly pummeled. The other untrue assertion that you are making is that we needed the new High School. The old one, was “falling down”,”it was outdated”, “it was too expensive to maintain”, etc. Those were the lies that were told to the town residents. Oh, and don’t forget the biggest lie, the large percentage that was going to be paid for from the state. Like that wasn’t my money also. Do you want to know how I know those were lies? Very simple. We are now using that same, unsuitable, dangerous, outdated, falling down school as the Middle School.
Bill March 22, 2011 at 05:41 PM
And Max, several other things you have wrong. People that lobby to have something at the cost to others, by definition. That makes them a special interest group. And the biggest mistake you and others keep making is perfectly represented in your sentence that follows: “the entire community benefits from having excellent schools” The mistake you and others in the BOE make, repeatedly, is trying to tie “excellent schools” to the amount of money spent. One has nothing to do with the other. This is easy to test. Please, show me the SAT scores or any other testing criteria that you want to use, that shows since we build the new High School, those scores are now substantively higher than the old schools standardized test scores. The building is not a determining factor in the quality of the education. The Chinese are turning out top notch students in unheated rooms that you can see your breath in. The building has nothing to do with education.
Allison Weeks Corne March 22, 2011 at 09:30 PM
Let's show some real numbers. According to this report from the Department of Education, Tolland spent the 3rd LEAST per pupil in the state in the 2009-2010 school year. Tolland spent $10, 617 while the average in CT is around $13,000. http://www.sde.ct.gov/sde/lib/sde/PDF/dgm/report1/basiccon.pdf. As an example, private school tuition at Kingswood Oxford this year was over $31,000. There may not be a correlation between money spent and student performance, but I'm not so sure anyone can say Tolland is overspending.
Max Headroom March 22, 2011 at 09:33 PM
Bill, I never specifically said we needed the new HS. My position is only that maintaining excellent schools is one of the best investments, in itself and it its future, that a town can make. While we might be regretting the lavish spending during boom times... I know of only one town in the US that didn't make the mistake of spending without any thought of an economic downturn. Too late to cry over that milk now - and we HAVE made that critical investment in Tolland's future, which will benefit everyone here regardless of whether they have children in the system or not. (By holding up and increasing RE values, among other things - in the long run, let's ignore the current troubles.) The budgets are subject to community review and vote, if not in each specific case, then in general elections. I'm confident that democracy still works here and the town is meeting a majority of residents' expectations. Vote the bad guys out... if you can. Forgive me if I gently call bogus on your use of the term "special interest group." That's a term that's been poisoned in recent years and is all too often used as a slap meaning "a group of people who got together and got funding for something I don't agree with." I don't play code-word games and I don't see a segment of a community standing up for something they want - something that the entire community then votes on - as being the same as AARP, the NRA, Sierra Club or every political party that uses its power in the most selfish ways.
Steven Jones March 23, 2011 at 02:53 AM
While we definitely needed a new high school (renovating the old one to have a second story while making students be taught in trailers was out of the question), I still question to this day their decision to build that pre-school. It came in with better computers than what the middle school provided its students, as well as an array of building upgrades I don't think kids that age could even comprehend There will always be a disagreement in the issue of taxes, but I think the best options are the following: A. Engage is civil discourse with the town to keep prices low or desire cuts in other areas to keep taxes low. B. Leave the town for cheaper taxes or a town that utilizes its taxes for your interests more than others. C. Start using more of the resources in the town you do pay for to offset the ones you don't get to use, but pay for. For example with C: I can't use the high school inside, but I can go to the track and fields during some weekend with friends/family if I wish. I can use the parks and play tennis/soccer/etc, as well as use the hiking trails and other services. I can use the library and take out a lot of books/movies/CDs to use, rather than having to buy my own. There are so many more examples too. And utilizing those services more than what you might pay for them at a per-taxpayer rate wont get you literal dollars back, but maybe instead saves those dollars spent at other businesses for goods/services.
Bill March 23, 2011 at 07:08 PM
Here it is. The big lie. What they don't include in these figures are related costs, such as the debt that we are paying on the new school. Those costs are not included in the reports on what we spend on the education in this report.What is that expression about figures and liars?? An honest discussion about taxes and what is ACTUALLY spent on students cannot be done without including these fees and taxes that we are paying that the BOE and others would like to keep hidden.
Bill March 23, 2011 at 07:14 PM
"every political party that uses its power in the most selfish ways." every xxxxxxxxx that uses its power in the most selfish ways. For the xxxx's put in any group you might think appropriate. By definition, a special interest. If you cannot see that with the BOE or Friends of Tolland Schools and their latest demand of a 6.53% increase. Or that they are not using their autonomy and power in the most selfish of ways? When everyone else in the town is trying to work on a 1.98% increase.
Bill March 23, 2011 at 07:17 PM
"I still question to this day their decision to build that pre-school. It came in with better computers than what the middle school provided its students, as well as an array of building upgrades I don't think kids that age could even comprehend" Oh, you mean the one with the computer lab for third graders that was better at that time them most every high school I had ever seen, that school? There is no correlation between the amount of money spent and the quality of the education your students receive.
tolland voter March 23, 2011 at 09:25 PM
Tolland's cost per student is one of the lowest in the state. That is a fact. Tolland's administrative costs are lower than regional and state averages. That is a fact. Tolland graduates 99.5% of its students. That is a fact. In the recent past, approximately 80% of Tolland's graduating students went on to secondary (4-yr college or community college). That is a fact. The BOE has delivered a quality program with the funding that has been provided. The problem is that it can not continue to provide the same level of education that is expected. The "special interest" group in this discussion are the students that are going through Tolland's education system. This is a very interesting group, as they have NO SAY at all in the money collected to provide the services delivered to them. The BOE makes a request for funding, the Town Council sets the referendum, the town votes on it.
Josh Freeman March 24, 2011 at 03:00 AM
Wanted to respond to, "75% of the town budget goes to 25% of its residents.", posted up-thread... 1) A town with good schools sees it's property values increase which benefits the entire community. People will continue to want to move to the town. De-invest in the schools and watch the values decline. No one walks up to a Realtor and asks them to find a house in a town with crappy schools. 2) Further, someone invested in your future and in mine and provided a mechanism for us to get educated. One day children grow up and they will need to be qualified to take over the jobs we leave behind and fill the future needs that this country will have for leaders, business owners, workers, etc. We can invest in their development or cross our fingers and just hope for the best. I just don't believe hoping for the best benefits us long term.
Dan Simao May 06, 2011 at 03:12 PM
Does anyone know how much of that 22 thousand dollar healthcare premium the emplyee pays vs the tax payer?
Max Headroom May 06, 2011 at 03:44 PM
Given that these are union positions, I'd wager that it's 100% employer-paid.
charles May 26, 2011 at 10:14 PM
The kids in the education system should be counted first! Raise taxes 100% if you'd like! The kids should deserve the resources so they can be the next CEOs, professors, and doctors.

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