School, Town Budgets Ready for Board of Finance

Budget season is no fun for town officials, even in the best of years. This is definitely not the best of years for First Selectman Matt Riiska, who is having to deal with school budgets that by far overshadow the remainder of Norfolk’s expenses.

Riiska recently received a copy of the Botelle School budget, showing a $230,000 increase in spending over last year to $2,649,086 230, an increase of 9.54 percent. 

Just a couple of weeks ago, he had learned that the town’s assessment at Northwestern Regional School #7 will rise by $345,000, up 19.2 percent if passed as presented. Norfolk’s total Region 7 assessment would be $2,146,681.

School costs, which usually account for about 75 percent of the annual budget, force town officers to keep their budgets lean. “One is up $230,000, the other $345,000 and I have actually reduced my budget by $55,000 by just going through and trimming here and trimming there,” Riiska said.

Riiska had earlier pledged to the Board of Finance that he would keep his final budget as close to this year’s $4,331,551 level of spending for municipal services as he could. He more than succeeded, achieving a reduced total of $4,276,869. How he did that will be explored more closely in next week’s newsletter.

The town, like all the communities in the Northwest Corner, has seen steadily declining school enrollments in recent years. This year there are 70 students at Botelle and only 750 attending the middle and high schools. “I understand there are costs you can’t avoid,” said Riiska. “You have to have teachers whether you have five kids or 55. And everyone gets a 3 percent raise.”

Another factor for the elementary school is a special education student whose outplacement will cost $185,000. That sum is offset by reductions in other line items in special education spending, reducing the total increase to 27 percent, or $151,000.

Riiska and the Board of Education will take their final proposals to the Board of Finance on April 9 at 7:30 p.m. at a meeting in Town Hall. The finance board can cut specific line items in the selectmen’s budget but can only dictate an amount that the Board of Education should cut, not where the reduction(s) should be made.

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