By Feb. 20, Gov. Ned Lamont will have issued his first state budget. Many Connecticut residents may not know that towns and cities have been hard at work preparing their budgets, attempting to anticipate what the new governor might propose.
WNHH FM’s “Municipal Voice” brought Avon Town Manager Brandon Robertson and Connecticut Conference of Municipalities Municipal Resource and Service Center Director George Rafael on the air Wednesday to discuss the challenges of planning budgets with or without a state budget in place.
“You start off with the end in mind,” Robertson said. “We’re all trying to get to the same thing: an adopted budget by July 1.” The only problem is, to get there, you have to start working without a state budget.
Robertson explained the process of Avon’s path from theoretical budget to passed budget, which sounds almost exactly like a Rube Goldberg Machine.
First, you begin the process the year before with simple discussions about town priorities. There are meetings. There are boards that have to see it. By early February, the budget goes to the Town Council, which if approves it makes it the “Town Council Budget.”
“But we’re not done yet.”
“One more stop; there’s a town meeting so the community can be further educated.”
A full year later, with everything going according to plan, by May a municipality can have an adopted budget to go into effect by July.
But how does a municipality take into effect the nearly $3 billion that gets split up amongst the towns?
“Municipal officials want to know: ‘How much is my town getting?’”
George Rafael is familiar with these concerns as the director of the Municipal Resource and Service Center.
“The state budget has huge implications for municipal budget,” Rafael said, “they’ve been working on their budget since last fall. They need rough estimates.”
With the uncertainty from the state level, not knowing how that $3 billion in state aid will be meted out, local officials have to rely on a lot of estimating. Even worse, as Rafael noted, “because of the timeline, a lot of towns have to get budgets adopted before the state’s budget is completed.”
In short, “it’s really tricky,” as Robertson noted.
“Ihe more you rely on intergovernmental revenue, state aid, the more difficulty you have projecting what you should be budgeting. If state aid doesn’t come in as anticipated, then you have revenue shortfalls you have to make up for. The typical fall back is the mill rate.”
This one bit is why every Connecticut citizen should be concerned with not only their local budget, but the state budget as well. The mill rate, or property tax, is frequently touted as one reason why businesses and people are leaving or not coming in at all.
But when it comes to budgeting, the municipality is the end of the road. “Municipal officials can’t pass the buck,” saod Rafael, “there is nowhere else to go.”
Tune in to the rest of the episode for a lively analysis of what goes into a town’s budget, the pitfalls of projecting state funding, unfunded mandates and more by tuning in to the video at the top of this article.
“The Municipal Voice” airs every other Wednesday; the next episode airs on Feb. 27.