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Deciphering the North Haven Budget: A Dive into the Decision-Making Process

Updated: Mar 26

Welcome to my breakdown of the North Haven budget deliberations—a behind-the-scenes look at the complexities of shaping our town's financial future. My expertise lies more with the Board of Education budget because I was involved in its creation as a member of the BoE, but as part of my duties I try to stay up-to-date with all of the budget workshops that the town holds.  As always, constructive feedback is welcome!  To make a error is human, but to point out an error and cite your sources is even better :)

 

Strap in as we navigate through the twists and turns of the budgetary journey, highlighting key moments and decisions that impact us all.  The budget is presented in two halves (Town and Board of Education) and as a combined total.  

 

TL/DR 

Total town budget after cuts: 65,382,423 - Reduction of $4.4 million from the request

Total BoE budget after cuts: 64,972,728 - Reduction of $1.2 million from the request

Total of  130,355,151 - Original request reduces by roughly $6 million from the request


Both Democrats on the Board of Finance voted against sending this budget to a public hearing because they both felt additional cuts are warranted and the budget remained too high. 


I encourage folks to come out to the April 9th Budget Public Hearing to give their input.


Dogs help with budget analysis
Lulu Moon and Chewbacca Broccoli helping me with my BoE budget analysis

With the current budget standing at $121 million and a proposed increase to $136 million (or $130.4 million with suggested reductions), the stakes are high.  Even though budget turnout is often low for budget referendums, North Haven traditionally doesn't have an appetite for any proportional increase in taxes.  

 

Based on a grand list that didn't experience anticipated growth, our income to the Town falls a little short, and expenses continue to rise in a challenging inflationary environment.  

 

What does this mean? Property taxes (home and car) will increase if this budget passes.  The proposal from the BoF would likely increase the average home tax by $400-$450 annually ($33 to $35 monthly for those escrowing taxes).  

 

To me, this is less of an increase than I expected.  My cell phone bill and grocery costs certainly increased more than this amount compared to last year.  Do I like it? Not really, but I do like the services I receive from this town (bulk pickup, leaf pickup, sanitation, our library and rec center, and our schools). To me, this seems like more than a good deal.  

 


couple works on budget

From sanitation to public safety, every department undergoes scrutiny as the BoF analyzes expenditure lines and makes difficult decisions for the town. Notable discussions include proposed cuts to requested adds to police staffing, sanitation services, and infrastructure maintenance. It was difficult to follow all of the proposals Mrs. Barrett (D) put forward, but there were many and I don't think any departments were spared.  She was advocating for cuts to health insurance that were not sanctioned by actuaries, or cuts to other lines that would put us out of compliance with state mandates. Ultimately the Republicans took a brief recess to caucus and agreed to the following additional reductions proposed by Mrs. Barrett: 

 

Sanitation tipping fees $45k

Phone $10k

Personnel policy $10k

Hydrants $5k

 

First Selectman Freda referred to it as "a delicate balance of cost savings and service quality".

 

students talk in library

BOE Budget Battle:

The Board of Education faces its own challenges, with Republicans slashing $1.2 million from their budget. Mrs. Barrett also advocated for an additional $308k reduction, sparking debates on educational priorities and funding allocations. 

 

The statement was made that the $1.2 million decrease was sanctioned by the Board of Education.  I can tell you that is not the case at all.  There has been no discussion and no vote on this.  

 

I understand some of the logic discussed for reductions and I would agree with several.  As an example, the BoE expects about $800k in Excess Cost Grant money from the State of CT.  This wasn't baked into the budget.  While this money isn't guaranteed, it is reasonable to assume the majority of this money will be sent to North Haven.  In addition, the actuaries working on our self-funded health insurance line said they would be ok reducing that line by an additional $108k without increasing our risk exposure too much.  This works out to about $925k, which I would be in support of as a reduction (speaking on behalf of myself only).  It wouldn't be the smartest form of governance in an less tumultuous economic year- if that even exists anymore, but given how hard this budget will hit the pocketbooks of North Haven it's something I could live with.

 

That still leaves $300k that needs to come from somewhere.  Maybe the BoF were proposing cutting our new capital budget?  We requested $200k for high priority (either dangerous if not addressed or directly impacting student learning) capital items.  Mrs. Barrett at one point referenced the $2.5 million in discretionary dollars (non-contractual obligations) as ripe for cuts. All of our sports programs are discretionary.  Cutting into this could mean a pay-to-play athletic program.  This would present a major equity dilemma and, let me tell you, if this were to happen there would be riots in the streets.  I would not support this.  I am just not sure where else Mrs. Barrett has in mind to cut.  She offered no specific suggestions, just a round number she was dead set on. Now, the Board of Education and I have $300k to solve for. After these drastic cuts, Mrs. Barrett then recommended an additional $300k in cuts that the Republicans thankfully rejected. 

 

This puts the town at 50.2% of the total budget and the BoE at 49.8% of the total budget.  This seems ok, right?  Except that the BoE is a larger employer and the vast majority of our peer towns (towns with similar socio-economic status) spend between 60-75% of their total budget on education.  We are several standard deviations outside the norm now.  And that's just solid statistics. I did a whole analysis last year you can find here.


public comment town meeting

 Public Engagement and Advocacy:

 

As deliberations unfold, town officials invite public input and feedback, recognizing the importance of community voices in shaping budgetary decisions.  Both the BoF Chair and member Laurie-Jean Hannon encouraged folks to come out to the April 9th Budget Public Hearing to give their input.  I'll be there if you're looking for someone to sit with.  My public comments will be similar to the editorialization within this post.  If you are looking for help on public comment, let me know.  I'm happy to help, even if we don't agree.  Whether you are coming out to advocate for more firefighters, less bulk pickup, more school funding, etc., I just hope you come out and make your voice heard.  

 

 

 

 

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