Facing nine budget questions, Ridgefield voters approved spending for the 2019-20 fiscal year Tuesday.
The annual budget referendum drew 1,725 residents to the polls — exactly 200 fewer voters than the 2018-19 referendum that took place during last year’s macroburst.
“How do we get people to turn out to vote?” First Selectman Rudy Marconi wondered Tuesday night after the Board of Finance voted to approve a mill rate of 28.12 mills for 2019-20.
For comparison, the2017-18 mill rate for Ridgefield was 27.29 mills. Last year, the mill rate was 27.78 mills.
Marconi called the turnout — which was less than 10 percent of the town’s roughly 18,000 registered Ridgefield voters — “abysmal.”
The voters who did turn out to cast ballots approved a 1.24 percent tax increase. School budget, town budget, road budget, and capital-spending questions all passed with easy victories.
“All three boards worked hard to deliver a zero percent tax increase,” Marconi said after the brief finance board meeting. “We wanted that for our taxpayers but we do have labor contracts that require increases and that’s how we got to 1.24%. Although it’s an increase, it’s well below the cost of living and we’re going to work hard again to bring a similar low number to our residents next year.”
The following is a breakdown the official vote count:
Question One, the $47,793,923 town budget reflecting the “zero percent increase” achieved by the Board of Selectmen for the town departments budget, passed 1,395 yes to 325 no.
Question Two, the $98,193,760 school budget representing a 3.36 percent spending increase over the current year’s Board of Education budget, passed 1,149 yes to 576 no.
Question Three, $1,840,000 for annual road reconstruction and repaving work, passed 1,498 yes to 221 no.
Question Four, $602,300 in bonding authorization to finance a Mack dump truck, a road sweeper, and sidewalk improvements, passed 1,297 yes to 415 no.
Question Five, $917,000 worth of building improvement projects at the Recreation Center, the Venus building, and East Ridge Middle School, passed 1,345 yes to 371 no.
Question Six, $1,210,092 for a ladder truck for the fire department, passed 1,328 yes to 381 no.
Question Seven, $1,142,128 for school building repairs, security and surveillance infrastructure, and equipment costs, passed 1,441 yes to 278 no.
Question Eight, $184,000 for roof repair work at two elementary schools, Scotland ($94,000) and Branchville ($90,000), passed 1,468 yes to 248 no.
Question Nine, $565,000 worth of computer and information technology equipment, repairs and upgrades, passed 1,273 yes to 439 no.
School board chairwoman Margaret Stamatis said she was pleased with the results of Tuesday's vote despite the low turnout.
"Although voter turnout was low, we believe that the margin by which the BOE budget passed was a clear indication that Ridgefield residents believe that investing in our local schools and students is in the best interests of the community," she said. "The budget does allow us to continue to move education forward including resources for academic intervention and enrichment, curriculum writing and revision, expanded mental health and wellness services, staff training."
Stamatis said that locally the budget had not received much controversy but it has been "a year where national and state initiatives loomed large."
"The federal tax changes taking effect this year, and some of the components of the governor's proposed budget that shift financial burdens to municipalities while potentially decreasing or removing revenue streams, were on the minds of all of the Boards as we developed and discussed our budgets," she said. "The BOS and the BOF remained thoughtful in their discussions about the BOE budget and also demonstrated their support of maintaining a high quality school district as an economic driver in Ridgefield."