By TAYLOR MURCHISON-GALLAGHER
Town Council and Board of Education members heard a presentation from Town Manager Robert Lee and Superintendent Dr. Maureen Brummett on the history and future of Plainville’s budget. Both presentations took a big-picture view of Plainville’s growth over the last decade.
The current mill rate is 33.84, an increase of 7.6 mills from the rate a decade ago (26.24 in 2008-09). This equates to an increase of 29 percent over the past decade. According to Lee, it is important to remember that during that time period there were two re-evaluations, and the amount a resident pays in taxes depends upon the value of the property.
A decade ago, the town’s overall budget was $52.7 million, and the current budget called for $60 million. Lee explained that the $7.36 million increase (14 percent) over 10 years works out to an average annual increase of just 1.4 percent.
Plainville’s budget is broken down into four major categories—town government, schools, debt service, and capital improvement projects.
The biggest increase over the last decade has been in the government sector. Over the past 10 years, Plainville’s government expenses grew from $14,520,653 one decade ago to $17,533,146 in the current budget, an increase of 20.75 percent over 10 years.
School budgets have increased at a slightly lower rate from $32,271,879 to $37,322,912 in the current budget for 2018-19. That’s an increase of just over $5 million or 15.65 percent over the past decade.
Both debt service and capital improvement expenditures saw decreases during the same period. Debt service expended $4.8 million but dropped 8.4 percent. Lee is estimating $4.4 million in debt service in 2019-20. Capital improvements saw a negative 27 percent decrease in expenditures from $1.1 million a decade ago to $800,000 in the current budget.
Although expenses have increased $7.36 million over the last 10 years, Plainville saw a 28 percent increase in property tax revenue over the same period. Ten years ago, the town was collecting $36.6 million in taxes. The town collected $47,039,457 this cycle. This is a $10,378,519 increase in revenue.
Over the same period, Plainville’s population hasn’t grown significantly. According to information taken from the Connecticut Department of Health, Plainville had a population of 17,193 people in 2007 and a population of 17,705 as of 2017.
Plainville’s unemployment rate as of Nov. 2018 was 2.6 percent, compared to Connecticut’s 3.0 percent unemployment rate.
Plainville Community Schools remains one of the top employers in town with approximately 557 employees, including the Dattco Bus drivers. Manafort Brothers Inc., Wheeler Clinic, and Carling Technologies round out the top four employers in town.
During the 2017-18 school year, it was calculated that of the 429 employees in Plainville Community Schools, approximately 30 percent (127 individuals) lived in Plainville. An additional 32 percent, or 89 employees, lived in either Bristol or Southington.
Brummett explained that Plainville Community Schools has “had very low [budget] increases over the past seven or eight years,” with an eight year average increase of 1.07 percent.
The total budget amount for school year 2016-17 was $34,824,367. It was $35,503,096 in 2017-18, and was $37,322,912 in school year 2018-19.
For the previous two school years, Plainville Community Schools saw a reduction in Education Cost Sharing (ECS) grant monies, which Brummett said “resulted in midyear cuts,” with an adjustment of $100,000 for 2016-17 and a $300,000 adjustment for 2017-18.
“A third of our 2017-18 budget increase was due to insurance. Last year, it was even more than that, and as the community is well aware, we switched to the Oxford plan this year,” said Brummett. “And although the services are quite good, I do believe that the insurance costs are going to go up next year—but not as significantly as they would have had we stayed with the previous Anthem plan.”
Brummett said there is currently a soft budget freeze in place, “and that’s a process whereby we limit spending. We want to make sure we end the year on a positive note.” But some challenges are still facing the district.
“We have been very actively trying to keep our special education kids in district. Sometimes children do have to go outside of district if they have some specialized needs that we can’t meet,” said Brummett. “But, we’ve continued to develop our program, the only downside of that is when kids remain in the district we often have to hire a few paraprofessionals.”
There has also been a “pretty interesting trend of increased substitute costs,” as teachers take time off due to significant illnesses or maternity leave. “But,” said Brummett, “the bottom line for the Board of Education is that it’s costing us more and more every year.”
As of Dec. 31, 2018, there was a BOE total budget balance of $14,493,490. The line item that includes special education tuition—transportation, tuition, and other services—had a budgetary overage of negative $1,040,921. According to Brummet the overage will be partially “offset by the Excess Cost Grant and other billings later in the year.” She said that this is the most difficult account to forecast, and “we may need to reduce in other accounts to cover an end of year unfavorable variance.”
The proposed budget workshop schedule for the 2019-20 budget begins in mid to late February, when Governor Ned Lamont releases his first state budget. On Monday, March 4, Lee’s proposed budget will be presented to the Town Council.
Council will host a public hearing on Thursday, March 7. The Council will then host several workshops throughout the end of March. There will then be another public hearing in April.
As of this meeting, the budget vote is slated for Tuesday, April 30.
A copy of the presentation can be found on the Town’s website by visiting, www.plainvillect.com/home/news/town-council-board-education-joint-budget-presentation.
To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Taylor Murchison-Gallagher, email her at TMurchison@BristolObserver.com.