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.