The Board of Finance approved the $7,739,860 proposed municipal budget Tuesday night following a quick public hearing. It will now go to a May 8 Town Meeting.
A referendum to vote on the $21,108,004 Region 7 School District budget is slated for May 2. Norfolk’s portion is $1,804,736.
Municipal services would cost $3,701,585, while the local elementary school budget is $2,418,457. If approved, the municipal budget would increase $149,000, but the anticipated mil rate would still drop from 27.84 to 27.79.
Board of Finance Chairman Michael Scoyers lauded the budget, praising the Selectmen for submitting a budget that reduces the mil rate even as they grapple with expensive projects. “I think [First Selectman Matt Riiska] has done a fantastic job,” he said, adding that the Board of Education also turned in a “seriously conservative budget.”
Residents were not without questions and opinions, however. Susan MacEachron questioned the town’s debt service, which would increase by about $132,000 to a total of about a half-million dollars.
Riiska explained that the town is paying $56,000 as its portion of the recently rebuilt Mountain Road Bridge, for which it will receive a 50-percent state reimbursement. River Place bridge, still under construction, is included at $50,000 to cover interest costs until the project is complete, probably this fall. Both loans are at 2.25 percent interest.
Eventually, the town will receive an 80 percent federal reimbursement of the cost of the River Place bridge.
Maple Avenue is the biggest project and is expected to cost the town $2.1 million. Riiska has secured a $500,000 STEAP grant to reduce the cost and budgeted a $124,000 debt payment. He predicted that the entire road will not be completed this year, however, because of extensive rehabilitation needed there following last November’s massive gas spill on Route 44.
“It’s going to be difficult. There is a lot involved and the window closes quickly for construction in Norfolk,” Riiska said. “That could jeopardize doing the whole job this year.”
He said Bond Council recommended a 30-year loan or bond at between 4 and 4.5 percent interest. Riiska reported, “I put in 4.5, so we are covered.”
The school roof replacement is estimated to cost $1.8 million. It will be financed at 4.5 percent interest. Riiska said the town looked at a school construction grant, which would reimburse 30 percent but would also require adhering to state labor standards. It would ultimately cost more.
Discussion shifted to installation of fiber optic wires around town. Frontier has quoted the town $467,000 to extend coverage to less densely populated areas. There is $30,000 debt figure in the budget, but Riiska said negotiations are continuing. “Based on a half-million, I figured 15 years at 4.5 percent interest,” Riiska said.
Phylis Bernard asked why the town would pay Frontier to install infrastructure for a service they will then charge for. “That’s a good question,” said Riiska. “We’re still negotiating and will say, ‘Give us another price and it has to include everyone, or we won’t sign up.’”
Bernard further asked about the $110,000 budgeted for tennis court refurbishment. Riiska said the courts are heavily used. “You would be amazed.”
“It [the sum] looks like a state trooper to me,” she said, referring to the fact the fact that the town does not have a resident state trooper.