Slicing more than $2 million from the city’s Board of Finance-backed budget plan isn’t easy.
To haul the slated 1.5 mills property tax hike down to a less painful 1 mill increase, “there’s going to be sacrifices that have to be made,” said Mayor Art Ward.
Nothing’s off the table as officials scour the $170 million budget they’re eyeing now in a bid to hold property taxes down – not even the Mum Festival.
“You have to reassess everything in the budget,” the mayor said.
Whether some or all of the Mum Festival’s $16,000 allocation get sliced won’t even be clear when the final budget passes Monday.
Ward said he’s looking to lop $30,000 from the tourism and arts line item, which could mean a reduction to the Mum Festival, but that’s a decision for later by the special committee that assesses how best to fork over municipal money for cultural needs.
It would “totally out of whack,” though, to say the Mum Festival will suffer unduly in the fiscal shakedown, the mayor said.
Even so, Ward said, “nobody is exempt from the process.”
Among those facing reductions is the St. Vincent DePaul Society’s homeless shelter, which may have to get by with $5,000 less from the city, enough to create hardship for the always financially strapped organization.
The Bristol Visiting Nurse Association is targeted for a $60,000 reduction, said Ward. Both Ward and city Comptroller Glenn Klocko said the cut is on the table because the group has a large rainy day fund of its own.
Ward said that when the finance board approved the first draft of the budget, the state was still looking at a surplus. Now state leaders figure they might have an $80 million deficit instead, which could grow larger still.
“It’s not a good time,” the mayor said. “But it’s a time of realization. I have to be looking at the taxpayers’ ability to pay.”
Ward said that with people facing higher bills, the city can’t ask them to pay more in taxes than the bare minimum.
“I have to look at it as responsibly as possible,” the mayor said.
He said he’s trying to preserve services and avoid layoffs by postponing purchases and projects, including some he’s long supported, such as renovating the firehouses.
“We’re doing what we have to do to exist as a community,” Ward said.
The mayor said he’s surprised at how things have turned around since he took office.
“What’s transpired in the last six months has been a 180 from what I anticipated,” Ward said.
The final budget is slated for passage at a joint session of the finance board and City Council at 5 p.m. Monday.
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