Proposed budgets with minimal impact on the mileage rate

April 4, 2022 | by Ted Craft

The budget proposals unanimously approved by the Finance Council on March 31 would keep the mill rate almost stable, potentially increasing by only twelve hundredths of a percent, or about four cents.

Council will set the final mill rate for the 2022-23 fiscal year on May 9, following a public vote in the city’s annual budget meeting referendum.

A new mill rate of 32.96 would increase the property tax bill for a median-rated home ($688,143) by one dollar and 27 cents per year.

Despite rising costs and increased capital improvement needs, pressure on the per-mile rate was eased through the budget process thanks to strong revenue, large list growth and cash flow from of the sale of the Fromson-Strassler property.

The school district also found opportunities to reduce its operating demand by $265,000. Savings were also found in the City’s much smaller budget.

The Finance Council was able to erase almost all of a potential 2.2% increase in the mill rate by changing course on how certain pensioner benefits are funded.

OPEB

An analysis and recommendation by Finance Council member Michael Imber, who professionally specializes in municipal finance, led to a net reduction of $367,000 in operating budget line items for “other post-employment benefits.” (OPEB).

OPEBs are benefits other than pensions that employees receive in the context of their retirement. Medical insurance is OPEB’s most important offering.

For more than a decade, Weston made annual deposits into an OPEB reserve, but continued to pay the expenses from the operating budget. As a result, Mr. Imber explained, the reserve account, which is already generating a good return on investment, has reached a level where it is now more than 100% funded.

Mr. Imber proposed that contributions to the reserve account should still be made annually at a level guided by actuarial valuations, but that expenses be paid from the OPEB reserve which, he said, is the purpose of the fund. Mr. Imber noted that Weston’s OPEB reserve is particularly large. He estimates that half of Connecticut municipalities have no OPEB reserves, and the reserves of those that do are funded, on average, at just 32 percent.

The board discussed two approaches to Mr. Imber’s recommendation and adopted one a little more conservative than the other.

Proposals

These are the budget amounts that will be presented to voters at the city’s annual budget meeting on April 28. The referendum on the budget takes place on May 7.

School board operations: $56,391,182
City operations: $14,685,746
Fixed assets: $2,431,071

In the Zoom screen above, the Board of Finance in March. From left to right in all cases, top row: Richard Bochinski, Michael Imber, Steve Ezzes. Middle: Jeffrey Farr, Rone Baldwin, Amy Gare. Bottom: Jamie Zeppernick.