Middletown Board of Education, library spending dominates budget workshops

MIDDLETOWN – Common Council held its first two rounds of budget workshops this week, with the highly anticipated Board of Education report due on April 18.

These meetings are an opportunity for each department head to address the members of the board and explain their budgetary needs for the 2022-23 financial year. It also gives board members the opportunity to ask questions and make suggestions.

The first workshop took place at City Hall on Monday evening, with Mayor Ben Florsheim starting the conversation.

He said it’s too early to speculate what the city’s tax rate will be, but the goal is to keep it as stable as possible. “There are a lot of options we can explore to minimize this increase,” Florsheim said.

The Board of Education’s budget dominated the early stages of the workshop, including discussion of a possible audit of the school district’s financial processes, which Florsheim called for in his budget speech.

Council Minority Leader Philip J. Pessina expressed concern about the cost of investigating allegations of inappropriate conduct by some members of the administration.

“The elephant in the room is the investigation,” Pessina said. “It’s my hope, and I think it’s the whole hope of the board, that they’ll come to us when they meet us on the 18th with some sort of character.”

A few members, including Majority Leader Eugene Nocera, questioned why this budget was so heavily questioned.

“I’m a little disappointed tonight that the board took a long time to talk about the Board of Ed, who will be with us on Monday,” Nocera said.

Deputy Mayor Vinnie Loffredo, however, said the discussion was warranted, given how focused Florsheim’s speech was on the council’s spending agenda.

Florsheim reaffirmed his desire that he and the city’s director of finance and revenue, Carl Erlacher, can work with the school board to rework their budget.

“I hope there will be a collaborative approach,” Florsheim said.

The police budget was also discussed at length. Chief Erik Costa has expressed the need for a 2.2% increase in his department’s budget, primarily caused by warrants through the state’s police accountability bill.

“These are not desires, wishes or bloats of the police department,” Costa said. “These are the needs of the department to properly serve the city and be efficient and effective.”

This includes new technologies and a required accreditation manager position. The department will also add a new police captain position to lead a new community services division, as well as a new social worker, who Florsheim said has already proven his worth.

“It’s really been able to improve our efficiency in responding to mental health calls, which represent a growing share of the calls the department receives,” Florsheim said.

The fire department’s budget includes repairs and maintenance, such as upgrades to a generator, sprinkler system, garage doors and software.

The council also heard from representatives of several other departments, such as arts and culture, the office of the treasurer, the director of finance, the probate judge, emergency management and communications.

Sessions continued on Tuesday, where the council heard from several other entities, including the Old Burying Grounds Association, Veterans Council, Transit District, Registrar’s Office, Land Use, Russell Library, technology services, general counsel, water and sewer, and public works. .

Republican Registrar David Bauer told the council that this year will be more costly for his office due to minimum wage increases, impacts of the pandemic and additional work due to recent changes in electoral districts based on the 2020 census.

One problem is that more people than ever are voting by mail, a process that costs significantly more, Bauer said.

His department is also in the process of recruiting poll workers for the November elections.

The board held a lengthy discussion with Russell Library director Ramona Burkey after addressing the board, saying that for the sixth year in a row its budget would remain stable, but major repairs and further expenditure would be required in the near future.

“We face ever-escalating repair costs for our aging building,” Burkey said. “We have to plan and make decisions for decades to come and generations to come.”

She explained that approximately $2.2 million is needed over the next five years for repairs and services, including a new cooling and HVAC system, plumbing repairs, elevator maintenance and more. Again.

She said the public toilets at the Russell Library were also in dire need of repair. “It’s something that desperately needs to be addressed,” Burkey said.

Nocera suggested that undesignated funds from the American Rescue Plan Act could potentially be used for some of these repairs. Some of the money is already being spent on water and sewer projects in the city, the councilman said.

Florsheim said that ultimately much of the budget is still up in the air until the state finalizes its budget.

“There are a number of proposals before the legislature that would have a significant impact on Middletown’s budget, mostly in a positive way,” the mayor explained.

The budget workshop, including a discussion on the school board budget, will take place on April 18th. A public hearing will follow the following evening.

For more information, go to middletownct.gov/755/Granicus.