School Budget Soars While Town’s Declines

A decline of $55,000 in municipal spending was offset by an increase in education costs of more than a half-million dollars in the budgets presented to the Board of Finance Tuesday night.

The combined budgets currently stand at $9,072,442 for 2024-25. Of this, general government spending and the municipal capital plan call for expenditures of $4,331,551, much of which will be consumed by salaries, benefits and infrastructure improvements.

Pointing to highlights in his proposed budget, First Selectman Matt Riiska said that $546,000 is allocated for roads and infrastructure, while another $40,000 would fund removal of dead and dying trees by the town public works department. Public works spending, at $916,249, consumes nearly a quarter of the general government budget.

“One thing I’m leaving out is major tree work,” he said. “We usually spend $60,000 on a private contractor to remove trees from along the roadsides.” 

Riiska hopes to save the town money by refinancing its $4 million loan for the upgrade of Maple Avenue, currently carrying 5.87 percent interest. If he can refinance at 2.25 percent, it would save the town $50,000 annually over the duration of the loan.

The town also has $1.2 million left after closing out its defined benefit plan and providing annuities for pensioners. Riiska proposes using $367,000 to retire the three remaining years of debt on windows and doors at Botelle Elementary School and the ambulance corps headquarters. 

Finance member Myron Kwast asked whether, with interest rates still high, it might be more worthwhile to continue the debt and invest the $1.2 million. Riiska said he would seek advice on the matter.

Riiska said he and Board of Finance Chairman Michael Sconyers discussed allocating $250,000 in unreserved capital funds to next year’s budget to help lower taxation.

In its presentation, the Board of Education said an unexpected increase in the special education needs of one student added $185,000 to the Botelle budget, boosting the budget increase to 9.54 percent. The total cost for local education is expected to be $2,655,086, up $230,630.

To lower spending, the board cut $80,000 in special ed salaries from its budget by decreasing the certified staff and hiring paraprofessionals.

Special education needs are also largely responsible for the increase in the town’s assessment for Region 7, which is slated to rise $341,751 to a total of $2,146,681.

If passed as presented, the total Norfolk budget will rise from $8,554,744 to $9,072,442. 

The budget will be taken to a public hearing April 30 and to a town meeting vote in May.

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