The majority of the City Council has approved a budget for the coming fiscal year. The plan was opposed by the six Democrats on the Council. Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton proposed a $237.7 million budget with a tax increase of 2.4 percent. Sewer and water rates remain the same.
The municipal side of the budget is heavy on infrastructure projects, including roads, bridges and school roof improvements. Boughton says the last few winters have taken a toll on Danbury's infrastructure. It's about 30 million dollars in work that will be done around the City this summer and fall.
Boughton says spending up 6% from last year, but if it wasn't for the increase to the schools the mill rate could have been reduced. Part of the increase is due to higher enrollment and more costs to accommodate more students.
Boughton also issued a so-called Playbook of steps to take over the next five to 10 years to streamline City government and save taxpayers money. He wants to create a Project Management Office. Other cities that have done this and Boughton says they've seen a 30 percent decrease in failed projects and 25 percent increase in projects delivered under budget.
The education portion of the budget is lower than what the Board of Education requested. The Board sought $127.5 million, but the Mayor recommended $124 million. That smaller number is still a 2.3 percent increase in spending over the current year.
Superintendent of Schools Dr Sal Pascarella says full day kindergarten, a new middle school and increased security are leading to some of the increase. Special education is a major cost driver in this budget. Danbury is looking to create a a so-called building brace program to keep kids in the district rather than outplace a student. Part of the outplacement cost is transportation.
Pascarella says the state has flat funded Education Cost Sharing grants to Danbury since 2008, even though the City has seen consistent enrollment increases.
Pascarella says if there are more budget cutbacks there will have to be fewer teachers, less supplies and consolidated administrators.
There are two new initiatives included in the budget this year. The 311 info line is going to become a 24/7 operation. Starting on July 1st, residents will get a live operator on the phone at all times to discuss a concern, a pothole or something that needs to be fixed.
The other initiative is a pilot program with Savings Bank of Danbury. Residents will be able to go to any of the 5 branches in the City as of July 1st to pay their property taxes with a teller. Boughton says this will take some of the pressure off City Hall, but also allows Danbury to offer services to residents 6 days a week.
$3 million dollars in bonding was unanimously approved by the City Council. $1.7 million of that will go to road and drainage improvements throughout Danbury. The balance is for other projects that should last the City 20 years.