Smart Growth for Vernon, CT
McCoy proposes $78.8 million plan for 2010-11

By Suzanne Carlson
Journal Inquirer
Published: Wednesday, March 17, 2010 12:21 PM EDT

VERNON — Mayor Jason L. McCoy has proposed a $78.8 million budget for the 2010-11 fiscal year that he said will handle increased labor costs and maintain essential services while leaving room for further reductions in energy expenditures.

In a presentation to the Town Council on Tuesday night, McCoy said the $2.7 million increase, which represents an increase of 3.5 percent over the current year, is driven mainly by a 20 percent rise in health insurance premiums.

Some $2.03 million is for additional health care funds and accounts for 76 percent of the total budget increase over the current year.

Health insurance contract negotiations reduced costs by 10 percent.

The school board had asked for a 5.35 percent over the current year for a total of $48.29 million. McCoy has proposed $47.56 million for the schools, up $1.7 million from the current year.

School enrollment is 3,687 students as of March 1, and is expected to decrease in the coming year.

Excluding health insurance increases, McCoy’s budget presents a 0.8 percent increase in new spending.

McCoy said that if new debt service on the 2004-05 road and school bond projects also are excluded, total spending decreases 0.2 percent from the current year.

Debt service rose 16.73 percent this year, but was reduced $92,100 to $787,760 thanks to surpluses in the 2010 budget from a hiring freeze started in 2009. Capital improvements also took a hit to offset debt service, as McCoy cut $76,120 for improvements from the budget.

The tax rate required by McCoy’s proposal was unavailable, as was the cost of the increase to the average taxpayer.

McCoy said he was unable to bring police or public works employees to the negotiating table, but other contract negotiations resulted in several zero percent wage increases, freezes on unused sick time, and a new defined contribution pension plan that will replace a traditional pension.

As a result, total spending for town employee wages decreased $120,000.

McCoy told council members that they were welcome come up with their own budget reductions, but warned that reducing the proposed budget by a quarter of a percent would mean cuts totaling $190,000 would have to be made.

The council approved the ordinance to establish an Energy Improvement District in town Tuesday, with the stipulation that the mayor not be a voting member of the board.

McCoy said he could live with the change to ex oficio status, and is happy the ordinance, which, he said, would promote alternative energy options in town, passed unanimously after being rejected by Democrats the last time it was presented over a year ago.

But he did acknowledge today that the town might not see savings from the project any time soon.

“It probably wouldn’t be until next year. I wished we passed this a year and a half ago and maybe we’d be in a better spot. I’m not looking for this to fall through the cracks, though. We got it passed and now we can move ahead and save some money and help the environment,” McCoy said today.

He highlighted several other money-saving programs in a statement to the council, including the installation of fiber optic cables between town buildings, a reduction in the school board’s electricity costs by $85,000 thanks to energy-saving software, and a move to automated trash and recycling pickup, which took advantage of public works retirements and will save the town costs on tipping fees.

The generation of revenue also was a key part of the mayor’s statement, and McCoy made it clear that he feels attracting businesses will be the key to Vernon’s future success.

“The major issue that this community is confronted with is that it has had very little economic development. Our grand list has only grown by 0.36 percent,” McCoy said.

“The grand list isn’t going up, so the choice is to either pay higher taxes or be more receptive to commercial development,” he added today.

He highlighted current projects such as a $15 million dollar development for apartments and retail space at Roosevelt Mills, another $15 million building project at the Marriott Springhill Suites hotel on Hartford Turnpike, the potential for an equestrian center, and the expected end of the long-running Home Depot legal battle that would result in a new store at the former SportsPlex location.

Additional revenue would make budgeting town expenses easier, but for now, McCoy warned that further reductions could harm essential services, which, he said, have been unaffected by the current proposal for the next fiscal year.

“We have a decent budget. I wish it could be a flat-line budget, but the increase is almost entirely attributed to health insurance. The other portion is debt service, but people in this town chose to bond debt, so now we have to pay it back,” McCoy said.

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