Thursday, May 30, 2024

Stratford Democrats Want a Budget That Moves Our Community Forward

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Budget negotiations continue this week with the Town Council Democrats goal of increasing funding to the Board of Education to avert layoffs and the elimination of vital school programs

By Kaitlyn Shake
Town Council Democratic Party Leader
Councilwoman District 7

As Democrats on the Stratford Town Council, we want to thank the public for showing up and speaking out, submitting emails, and contacting us to share their feedback on the Mayor’s Proposed Budget. Between the Town Council, Ordinance Committee, and Board of Education, hundreds of members of our community spoke publicly and or sent emails advocating for a budget that provides more support for our students. We have visited and interviewed our school leaders and gone into classrooms to speak with teachers and students.

We want Stratford’s 2025 Town Budget to provide the necessary funding to stabilize our schools, maintain the requested funding for all town services, keep the mill rate frozen and still leave our fund balances in decent standing. We believe there is a path forward to accomplish this. The following are our priorities:

  1. Funding the schools through the operating budget. Having reviewed with school leaders and financial officers in other towns, the proposed structure for the Board of Education funding (page 58 of the budget book) is questionable as an accounting practice and needlessly detrimental to the stable funding of our schools. The Mayor’s proposal divides funding from the town into $127 million on the “Board of Education” Line and an additional $2 million of “non-lapsing funds from the balance of unspent town funds FY24.” We believe ALL funds given to the schools should be given within the BOE allocation- as part of their formal operating budget. These funds should be offset by a revenue line utilizing a portion of our unused fund balance and the $600,000 in remaining ARPA Funds that will not necessitate a mill rate increase and, therefore, not increase taxes.
  2. We believe the general fund is in a position to allow a greater allocation towards the budget than the Mayor’s $129 million currently proposed (including the $127 million and $2 million unlapsed funds). This allocation is needed to prevent damaging cuts of all librarians, reading and math coaches, our alternative high school program (ALPHA), and other essential education staff.
  3. We believe the Stratford Library and Sterling House can also be funded above the Mayor’s proposal.

1A: Details on the questionable structuring of the Mayor’s proposal for school funding: As currently structured, the line on page 58 for $2 million of “non-lapsing funds from balance of unspent town funds FY24” does not clearly fall into any of the ways a town can spend money on the Board of Education under law. The ways a town can allocate money to the Board of Education are as follows:

  1. They can appropriate funds, like the $127 million line item on the same page. The revenue sources of those funds could be any source of funding to the town’s general fund, including taxes, the non-alliance portion of ECS, non-tax revenues or use of reserves or fund balance.
  2. The Town Council can fund an Education Reserve Fund authorized under CGA Sec. 10-248a. That fund was established in the Stratford Ordinance but has not been funded since its creation in 2021. That law provides for the town, at the governing body’s discretion, to place the BOE surplus from operations in a given year in the fund where they can be spent on non-recurring and capital expenses on the BOE’s say-so, non-lapsing. The Mayor’s proposal refers to Town surplus, not BOE, and does not reference the Educational Reserve Fund.
  3. The Town Council can fund a Reserve Fund for Capital and Non-Recurring Expenditures under CGS Sec. 7-359. This is funded by tax dollars and sets money aside for capital spending, including schools. It has some approval requirements and limitations and doesn’t make sense with what the Mayor proposed.
  4. Pass through grants, like ARPA.

1B: Details on utilizing fund balance from the General fund. Within the Mayor’s proposed budget, many town funds, WPCA (page 59), Railroad (page 62), and Harbor Fund (page 63), are utilizing fund balances this year. Many of the other town funds not utilizing a balance this year still show the line “utilization of fund balance” in their revenue subsections as they have spent balances in the past. While the overall revenue section at the beginning of the budget book omits this line, a one-page budget summary that the Democrats requested was finally provided by the Mayor’s administration to the council (attached inline below). That document did include the line “Utilization of fund balance” under the revenue section for our general fund/ overall budget.

The general fund balance has not been utilized over the 3 year look back window shown above, circled in yellow. The fact it is listed, however, clearly indicates that it is a vehicle available for our 2025 budget deliberations and is within the purview of the Council’s consideration. On page 11 of the 2022 CAFR, the most recent which we have received to date, the utilization of general fund balance is also mentioned: “During the current Fiscal year, unassigned fund balance in the General Fund increased by $3,241,533 for an unassigned balance of $13,625,874. The Town did not utilize the general fund balance for the fiscal year 2023 budget.” Again, while the balance was not utilized at that time, mentioning it is a clear indication that it is a legitimate option.

As Democrats on Stratford’s Town Council, we believe in a brighter future for all of our residents. We are working to make the investments needed to ensure it. We are also listening to members and leaders in our community and want to carry their voices forward, who have resoundingly asked us to find a way to meet the Acting Superintendents’ 6.69% request.

We are hopeful and remain committed to working with all members of the Stratford Town Council and the Mayor’s administration to achieve a budget solution and plan that does not impact other town services, the current mill rate, or undercut our fund balances to the point of destabilizing Stratford’s future. We are always stronger, together and look forward to continuing to find solutions to adequately fund one of our most vital services, Stratford’s Public Education.

Respectfully Submitted,

Kaitlyn Shake, Council Democratic Leader, Councilwoman, District 7
Anthony Afriye, Councilman, District 5
Rene Gibson Councilwoman, District 4
Chris Green Councilman, District 2
Alvin O’Neal Councilman, District 3

2 COMMENTS

  1. Although much of what is detailed in this piece is outside my field of knowledge and understanding of financial matters, it gives me a great sense of relief that our Democratic Council members have come up with some solutions to our current budget dilemma. I am profoundly grateful to our Democratic Council members for the blood, sweat and tears which must have been spent in arriving at these solutions. I will be very focused on how this plays out in the deliberations upcoming, and am hoping for a positive outcome for our schools and our public library. BRAVO Democratic council members and much gratitude!. 👏 👏👏

  2. I’d like the council to consider the high property taxes we already pay esp those of us who have never had children in the school system. No one seems to factor in the additional costs visited on the seniors who have no additional source of income. While everyone else sees an increase in their income seniors struggle to maintain their households on a fixed budget. Its about fairness.

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