Mayor offers insight into budget

To the editor:

As we implement the 2016-2017 budget, I reach out to taxpayers in an effort to provide some insight into the upcoming tax increase. Many have been critical that there was a zero tax increase last year followed by a modest increase this year. Many quickly forgot that following last year’s budget adoption, Board of Finance Chairwoman Cheryl Thibeault aptly declared that taxpayers shouldn’t expect that zero to repeat. As she predicted, it did not repeat. The city’s Joint Board recently approved an increase of 1.42 mills for the fiscal year beginning July 1. This was accomplished with no reduction in city services despite funding cuts from the State of Connecticut. (State cuts to Bristol totaled $1.2 million.) This tax increase represents an additional $142 per year on every home assessed at $100,000, or roughly $12 per month.

Throughout the budget process, the Board of Finance scrutinized each fiscal decision balancing the need for fiscal control with the need to invest in the future of our city. Key investments were approved to include state of the art playing fields that provide increased playing capacity, as well as funding for downtown with revitalization dollars allocated to begin restoration of the Memorial Boulevard Cultural Center. We continue to allocate funds to improve city buildings, restored funds to street improvements, and appropriate capital to replace aging infrastructure and technology.

There was passionate discussion about Board of Education funding.

Critics said that the Board of Education was being “flat funded.” This misinformation relates to the term MBR (minimum budget requirement) that limits Bristol’s ability to reduce the Board of Education’s budget less than the prior fiscal year. Direct increases to the MBR bind the city in future budgets whereas providing funding through other means gives the city more flexibility to make budget adjustments as needed. So while it may be correct that increases to the MBR have not been funded as requested from year to year, the Board of Education has been provided with additional funding over the years through a combination of MBR increases and other sources. Below is a summary of the Board of Education’s increases for the past four years:

2013-14 – $1.6 million MBR increase, additional funding/use of surplus funds outside of BOE General Fund – $1.6 million; for a total of $3.2 million

2014-15 – $2.55 million MBR increase, additional funding/use of surplus funds outside of BOE General Fund – $421K; for a total of $2.97 million

2015-16 – No increase in MBR, additional funding/use of surplus funds outside of BOE General Fund – $2.56 million; for a total of $2.56 million

2016-17 – $311K increase in MBR, additional funding/revenue shifting – $3.58 million, for a total of $3.89 million

I do fully support the Board of Education and the great work they do to educate our children. My thanks to the Board of Education for working with the Board of Finance to arrive at a reasonable and workable budget that allows them to continue their mission of providing a safe and successful learning environment for all students. I also balance that support with the competing needs for capital improvements and projects as well as the priorities of many other vital city departments such as police, fire, public works, to name a few.

In summary, there are bright points ahead for Bristol. We have a strong financial management system as noted by favorable reviews from the rating agencies. We have eliminated annual reliance on fund balance to balance the budget. We continue to focus on business growth to attract more companies to our city, which creates jobs and increases our Grand List. We continue to seek out elimination of duplicate functions in city government and keep a watchful eye on spending. We are investing in ourselves by maintaining buildings and roads. We look forward to the successful implementation of this budget and will begin to plan for the future challenges of next year’s budgetary process.

Please feel free to contact me through the Mayor’s Office at (860) 584-6250, via email at kencockayne.bristolct.gov or on Facebook.

Mayor Ken Cockayne

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