The city’s Board of Finance unanimously endorsed a $170.8 million municipal spending plan that would freeze property taxes this year.
Given the tough economy, “it would have been unconscionable” to hike taxes, Finance Chairman Rich Miecznikowski said.
The budget approved by fiscal overseers Tuesday cuts overall spending slightly while delivering a $1.4 million increase to schools, which amounts to 1.4 percent more money than education got this year.
The new budget won’t be final until it is given a stamp of approval at a joint session of the City Council and finance board on June 4. If state or federal aid figures change in the meantime, the numbers could be adjusted, officials said.
Perhaps the most unusual thing in the finance panel’s budget is that it’s not balanced. Revenues don’t match expenditures, which is an accounting no-no.
The $342,000 in spending that exceeds revenue will have to be sliced away before the final budget is approved, officials said.
To do it, Mayor Art Ward said, the unions representing city workers will have to make concessions on existing contracts or else he’ll have to lay off some employees.
The exact dollar figure “is not set in stone,” Comptroller Glenn Klocko said, but the necessity of reducing spending is clear.
Miecznikowski said officials faced challenges in paring the budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1, including rising costs and sinking revenues.
State aid in particular is stagnant at best, but the city is also seeing fewer building permit fees, lower interest earnings and less money from the conveyance tax on property sales.
To hold down spending, officials delayed bonding, put off equipment buys, slashed road paving, lowered the contingency account that’s tapped for unexpected needs each year and much more.
City leaders have been working on the budget for months, with the aim of delivering a budget that froze property taxes if at all possible.
“It’s been a long grind and there’s been a lot of sacrifice all the way around,” Ward said.
Proposed spending: $170.8 million
Education share: $102.3 million
City share: $67.7 million
Proposed mill rate: 25.99
Final adoption: June 4
Were there any tricks?
Were there any tricks?
To complete the budget with a property tax freeze included, finance officials agreed to raid Bristol’s rainy day fund to snatch $2.5 million that had been socked away for emergencies.
Mayor Art Ward and Comptroller Glenn Klocko said the economic crisis is reason enough to use a small portion of the undesignated reserve fund to help close this year’s budget gap.
Klocko said that he also reached into a number of funds – special accounts created to pay for equipment and other anticipated needs – to find even more excess cash.
All of it together helped make it possible for the city to maintain services and at least most of its jobs for another year without clobbering taxpayers.
But what’s going to happen a year from now?
Klocko said that he’s not sure how the city will pull it off without the excess money to use.
Officials said they hope that the troubled economy will pull out of its funk before they have to deal with problem.
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