Riiska Working Toward No-Increase Budget

First Selectman Matt Riiska is taking a conservative stance on municipal spending for the coming year despite some good financial news in the third quarter of the fiscal year.

He told the Board of Finance Tuesday that his proposed 2024-25 budget would rise 2.5 to 3 percent if nothing is changed, but “I am working on getting it as close to no increase as I can.”

He said the town would forego some things this year, like budgeting $60,000 for tree removal, and he will use the town crew for work such as putting in a new sidewalk between Berkshire Country Store and the Post Office rather than contracting for the work.

But there is nothing he can do about the 19.2 percent ($345,000) increase in the town’s assessment for Region 7, which he termed “a killer.” The increase is based on the proportion of students sent to the school by the four member towns. Norfolk is sending six more students while the other towns are sending fewer.

Representatives of Region 7 will come to Norfolk March 27 at 6:30 p.m. for a budget presentation at Botelle School.

Norfolk endured an annus horribilis in 2023, with multiple financial disasters draining the town’s coffers, but there seems to be a turn in its fortunes as the new fiscal year approaches. It was reported during the meeting that a decision to close out the town’s defined pension plan and provide the pensioners with annuities should bring a residual $1.2 million to the town.

“To end up with $1.2 million will be very, very important in the coming year,” said Board of Finance Chairman Michael Sconyers. “It’s only March and we have already spent 84 percent of this year’s budget. It’s been a tough year.”

Riiska said he would recommend using some of the money to retire the debt on the windows and doors installed at the ambulance building. The town still has three payments to make for a total $392,692. “It would be wise for us to pay it off completely” he said. “We can’t take on debt until we pay off the debt we have.”

He said he is looking at refinancing the loan taken out last year for upgrades to Maple Avenue. Interest rates were not favorable at that time. “We have been talking to bond counsel and it was indicated we could save about $50,000 a year,” he reported. 

He said the Grand List went up about $4 million dollars this year, a modest amount, but that the town is going into a revaluation that could significantly increase property valuations. 

“Assessments have increased as much as 35 to 40 percent in some towns,” said Sconyers. “I think the Grand List will increase significantly.” He added that an increase in valuations does not mean taxes will go up significantly.

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