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Weston’s budget expected to jump 1.16%

The Board of Selectmen was expected to vote on the town and school budget proposals on Wednesday night, past The Forum’s press deadline. Coverage of the finalized budget numbers will be online at theWestonForum.com and in next week’s paper.

If no changes are made and the first selectman’s and school board’s budget proposals pass as is, Weston taxpayers are looking at a total gross budget of $65,706,224 for the 2013-14 fiscal year. That is a $752,942 or a 1.16% increase over the current gross budget.

The total gross budget includes $12.4 million for the town, $46.7 million for the schools, and $6.6 million for debt service.

Less projected revenues, the total proposed net budget is $62.8 million, a 0.96% increase.

On Monday, First Selectman Gayle Weinstein said she has increased her revenue projections from what she originally thought they would be. All indications earlier in the year had been that state aid would likely drop significantly, she said, and so a 10% decrease in aid was assumed.

However, the governor’s budget proposal shows the town may actually see a $62,000 increase in state aid. “So we are guestimating level funding at this point,” Ms. Weinstein said. There will likely be adjustments as the state goes through its budget process, but for now, she said, she “feels comfortable” with assuming funding will remain about the same as this year.

Town numbers

The first selectman proposed the following for the town budget:

• Operating budget: $11,689,696 (a 3.32% increase)

• Capital budget: $733,728 (a 36.03% decrease)

• Total town budget: $12,423,424 (a 0.31% decrease)

Ms. Weinstein said Monday, however, she wants to add hours for the youth services director. The post had been reduced last year from five days a week to three, but Michelle Albright, the new director, has been working more closely with the schools, Ms. Weinstein said, developing more programs for children and families in need.

In addition, it was thought the number of households receiving social services was going down, but it is not, she said.

Because the school “chose not to add another social worker,” Ms. Weinstein said she thinks it’s necessary and appropriate for the town to increase Ms. Albright’s hours.

Ms. Weinstein pointed out that public safety requests account for about 44% of the total increase to the town operating budget. These include adding a 10th patrol officer to the police force, additional hours and a benefit package for the fire marshal, additional police equipment and training, increased paramedic costs and more funding for the fire department.

“If we eliminated the public safety requests the [operating budget] would have about a 1.5% increase” instead of a 3.32% jump, Ms. Weinstein said.

School budget

The proposed school budget approved by the school board includes:

• School operating budget: $46,293,668 (a 1.55% increase over the current year)

• School capital budget: $447,000 (a 4.94% decrease)

• Total school budget: $46,740,668 (a 1.48% increase)

Debt service

The town’s debt service is increasing largely because of the way the town has refinanced over the past several years to even out costs to taxpayers, Ms. Weinstein said. The debt service budget includes:

• Town debt service: $694,124 (a 2.55% increase)

• School debt service: $5,860,508 (a 4.55% decrease)

• Total debt service: $6,554,632 (a 3.85% decrease)

With the grand list showing a modest increase of just 0.2% growth, it is not doing much to offset the mill rate. With an estimated tax collection rate of 97.7% for 2013-14 (compared with this year’s 97.6%), the mill rate is expected to rise by about 16 cents (0.67%) to 24.18.

A mill is equal to $1 for every $1,000 of assessed value on the grand list. For a house assessed at $500,000, the taxpayer would pay $12,090.

After last night’s vote, the next step is for the Board of Finance to review the town budget (Tuesday, March 12) and the school budget (Wednesday, March 13).

A public hearing on the budget is expected to be held Wednesday, April 3. On Thursday, April 11, the finance board will deliberate and vote on a final budget to send to an Annual Town Budget Meeting, which will take place Wednesday, April 24.

A machine vote on the budget approved at the ATBM will take place Thursday, May 2.

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