Any extra money for schools this year should go to voters, finance board says

The knock on the door is coming — the schools have been projecting a current-year deficit for months, and finance board members expect a request for an additional appropriation. But they don’t plan on answering the door alone.

“I highly expect we’d go to Town Meeting.” Finance Board Chairman Dave Ulmer said Tuesday night, Feb. 20. “We need the public’s input — both ways — on it.”

The finance board could send a special appropriation request to a town meeting — even if the amount is small enough that, legally, a town meeting vote isn’t required.

Finance board members thought the threshold requiring a town meeting vote was a request of $250,000 or more. But taxpayer advocate Ed Tyrrell  — a Charter Revision Commission veteran — corrected that impression. The $250,000 is a cap on the total of additional appropriations that can be given to various agencies in single budget year, he said, but the finance board cannot make a special appropriation exceeding $50,000 to any single agency without town meeting approval.

The finance board expects to draw from the town’s roughly $14-million “fund balance” — a kind of running, multi-year surplus — to cover any additional request.

School administrators have been projecting about a $1.2-million budget problem in this year’s $92.6-million budget — mostly unanticipated special education spending — and had instituted a “freeze” on non-mandatory spending that they hope will save about $700,000 by year’s end. The finance board figures it will be asked for the difference.

“It will be in the half-million range,” Ulmer said.

Ridgefield schools aren’t alone.

“Two or three districts have asked for supplemental appropriations and gotten them,” Ulmer said. “Brookfield. Bethel. Both were in the half-million-dollar range.”