Budget referendum Tuesday: Voters will decide on 1.24% tax increase

Ridgefield voters cast votes against budget critic Ed Tyrrell’s motion to cut the school budget at the Ridgefield Playhouse Monday, May 6, 2019.

School and town spending plans that would total $148 million and require a 1.24 percent tax increase next year will come before voters at referendum Tuesday, May 14, from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m., with all voting in Yanity Gym.

The referendum on the 2019-20 budget will also consider over $4 million in proposed capital expenditures that would be financed with borrowing — so they would not directly affect next year’s taxes, making their impact in future years as bonds are repaid.

“I think it’s a fair budget,” First Selectman Rudy Marconi said. “1.24 percent is — I would have preferred that it had been lower, but the Board of Finance has spoken. It’s their decision, and I accept it and ask the people of Ridgefield to support the budget as presented.”

The referendum will ask voters to approve the $148 million 2019-20 operating budget, as proposed by the Board of Finance. The proposal is based on requests from the Board of Selectmen and Board of Education.

“This is a responsible budget,” school board Chairwoman Margaret Stamatis said of the $98 million school request.

“It allows us to move forward and focus on areas to maintain the high quality of teaching and learning in Ridgefield,” she said. “It meets the identified needs of our current students and staff including resources for academic intervention and enrichment, curriculum writing and revision, expanded mental health and wellness services, staff training.

“It is our financial plan for how to deliver a high quality education in Ridgefield,” Stamatis said.

Finance Board Chairman Dave Ulmer has said that the proposed 1.24 percent tax increase would amount to about another $190 on a theoretically typical Ridgefield house assessed at $800,000 with a current tax bill of roughly $15,500.

People eligible to vote in Tuesday’s referendum include the town’s roughly 18,000 registered Ridgefield voters, and also non-resident property owners who are 18 years old, citizens of the United States, and hold property in town assessed at $1,000 or more.

Operating budget questions

Voters reporting to Yanity Gym for the referendum Tuesday will be asked nine “yes” or “no” questions, starting with three concerning the proposed $148 million 2019-20 town and school operating budget:

Question 1 asks voters to approve a $47,793,923 town budget that includes $36, 478,8807 for spending by town departments, such as police, fire, highway, parks and recreation, and town administration. Taken together these reflect the “zero percent increase” achieved by the Board of Selectmen for the town departments budget. The total is actually a slight — just under $5,000 —decrease from this year’s 2018-19 town allocation. The total in Question 1 also includes $11,315,116 in debt service.

Question 2 asks voters to approve a $98,193,760 school budget representing a 3.36 percent spending increase over the current year’s Board of Education budget.

Question 3 seeks $1,840,000 for “road and infrastructure improvements” with $75,000 of that earmarked for projects to improve town compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the bulk of the money going to annual road reconstruction and repaving work. The $1,840,000 is the same as the amount budgeted for roads and infrastructure in the current year.

Capital questions

The referendum will also have six questions on more than $4 million in proposed capital spending proposals — construction projects and equipment purchases to be paid for with borrowing in the bond market. These are mostly items over $100,000 each, as $898,100 worth of items costing less than $100,000 each were approved at the May 6 Annual Town Meeting.

Question 4 concerns $602,300 in bonding authorization that would finance: a Mack dump truck costing $197,000; a road sweeper for $255,300; and $150,000 for sidewalk improvements.

Question 5 concerns $917,000 worth of building improvement projects: $320,000 to replace the HVAC (heating and cooling equipment) at the Recreation Center; $475,000 for an HVAC replacement at the Venus building; and $122,000 to repair the front steps at East Ridge Middle School.

Question 6 asks voters to support the $1,210,092 for purchase of a ladder truck for the fire department, with the anticipation that $900,000 would be covered by a grant and that cost to local taxpayers would be $310,092. First Selectman Marconi told the May 6 Annual Town Meeting that if the grant was not received, the town wouldn’t go ahead with the purchase.

Question 7 seeks voters’ approval to spend $1,142,128 on a variety of initiatives for the school system. These include: $186,000 for removal of oil tanks at Veterans Park Elementary School and East Ridge Middle School, as well as asbestos abatement work at Scotland Elementary School; $167,810 for a “security and surveillance project” — including servers that store video from school security cameras — at the all the schools; $279,477 for energy and water saving projects in the school buildings; $299,686 to replace lights and carpeting at Ridgefield High School; and $208,255 for replacement of two trucks used by the maintenance crew as well as custodial equipment used in cleaning the schools.

Question 8 would approve $184,000 for roof repair work at two elementary schools, Scotland ($94,000) and Branchville ($90,000).

Question 9 seeks voters’ approval for $565,000 worth of computer and information technology equipment, repairs and upgrades. Of this, $99,000 is for a town “router and switch upgrade” and $466,000 would go to “education network infrastructure replacements” in the schools.

“We really need everyone to get out and vote,” Marconi told Monday’s Annual Town Meeting. “If you’re on social media, tweeting — let your friends know.”

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