Steve Jones’s Perspective
On Tuesday, May 3rd I hope you will join me in voting yes for Tolland’s Budget Referendum. Over the last several months, your elected volunteers and staff have worked countless hours producing a budget that meets three key objectives – Recovering from the pandemic, Rebounding needed services for our neighbors, and Re-investing in departments that have been understaffed and overworked. All while reducing the town’s mill rate.
This budget accomplishes those goals through the Board of Education’s overwhelmingly bipartisan budget that was submitted to the council. Even with reductions recommended by our interim town manager, this budget maintains needed staff to help students recover lost learning, addresses emotional/mental health challenges from the pandemic and supports cost-avoidance measures that keep our kids in Tolland. Accomplishing the BoE’s goals coincides with meeting several key needs moving forward for our town.
The addition of a public safety officer in this budget is sorely needed during a time when volunteerism is down across the board, and professional staff provides faster, highly skilled responses to local emergencies.
This budget reinstates a public works laborer, alleviating ongoing overtime costs and improving the safety of our roads as more dramatic storms and other weather events happen in our town.
This budget also reinstates a part-time coordinator to the recreation department. This position provides opportunities to be more responsive to a growing demand in programs. The position also takes meaningful action on recommendations from the Mental Health and Substance Use Task Force to improve the overall wellbeing of neighbors across all ages, especially our youth.
Finally, the budget adds an administrative assistant for the Senior Center, where currently the director oversees the everyday administrative operation and needs of seniors, who make up at least 15% of our town population. This addition ensures the senior center director can focus more on programming and build a stronger strategic plan to connect with our elderly neighbors.
I hope you’ll keep these points in mind when you exercise your civic duty on Tuesday, May 3rd between 6AM and 8PM at the Recreation Center.
Steve Jones, Town Council Chairperson
Katie Murray’s Perspective
Reactionary budgeting has negatively impacted Tolland for a number of years. Prior focus on minimizing increases to the mill rate has led to degradation of our capital infrastructure due to deferred maintenance; staff have routinely been asked to do more with less, resulting in the loss of multiple department heads and experienced support staff; community services have been unable to meet residents’ needs, driving some of our neighbors to seek programs or services outside of town; school programs have been cut. These practices are easy to justify – everyone wants their taxes cut – but the gradual erosion caused by these practices can be seen throughout town.
It’s time to make some hard decisions. We need to reframe our conversations away from focusing on the mill rate. Rather, we need to look at community needs, provide essential services, and commit to properly maintain and upkeep our capital infrastructure. We must show the pride we have in our community by ensuring the things we are most proud of are maintained. This has the added benefit of preserving and increasing our property values, which helps with the financial security of each household. Budgeting in this manner will also save the Town money in the long run.
While we cannot address everything in a single year, we can set priorities and begin the process of properly funding the most important items. After reviewing budget requests and speaking with department heads, we believe this includes:
- Funding Board of Education priorities by recovering previous years pre-investments, maintaining vital educational services, and rebounding from the profound impact of the COVID-19 pandemic;
- Adding a staff member to the Senior Center;
- Reinstating a Rec Coordinator to help manage increased demand in current and new programs;
- Reinstating a public works laborer;
- Adding a public safety officer; and
- Investing in capital equipment and infrastructure which now must be repaired or replaced for safety and mandatory reasons.
Balancing spending and taxation is a delicate process. Our Grand List has increased 3.8%, which is the biggest increase in the past 10 years. Much of this is due to an increase in motor vehicle values. Our experts tell us that while this Grand List increase is a reflection of current economic conditions that might change, we are not expecting a sharp decline in future years. With this increase, we can LOWER taxes and still fund priority items.
This budget is a win-win for Tolland. We are simultaneously decreasing the mill rate and planning for the Town’s future. We are supporting EVERY major Town Department. We are rebuilding, rebounding, and reinvesting.
Town Council Member
Colleen Yudichak’s Perspective
Tolland friends and neighbors,
Here is my reasoning below for my “yes” vote from last night’s Town Council meeting to send the proposed Interim Town Managers’ budget to referendum on May 3, 2022:
First, I want to thank Ms. Hancock for her hard work in putting together this year’s budget. I also wanted to thank all the department heads and the superintendent for attending meetings, answering questions, and listening to all of our comments and concerns throughout this process. I also want to express appreciation for all the hard work the BoE members put in during this budget season.
After hours and hours of studying the budget book, asking questions, attending budget meetings, speaking with constituents, and hearing testimony from residents at meetings and in emails, I believe the proposed budget put forth by our Interm Town Manager Lisa Hanock is a budget that meets the needs of the entire town.
Not only does this budget proposal offer a reduction in taxes, but it is a well-thought-out plan for Tolland. We have an opportunity to create a town with more balanced and responsive departments that will offer more services for all residents.
With this budget, the Town is able to reinstate 2 positions, and add 2 new positions:
PT administrator for the Senior Center
FT Public Safety Officer
PT reinstate the Recreation coordinator
FT reinstate Public works laborer
This budget also supports the needs of the BoE without negatively affecting any programs or students.
With this budget, we were able to use funds from the American Rescue Plan Act to pay down $770,000 dollars of capital debt for 2 major items for the Public Works Department. (Sweeper and VACALL)
I support the proposed budget from our Interim Town Manager Ms. Hancock FY 2022-23 Town Operating and Capital Budget in the amount of $60,106,207, with a decrease of .024 mills, for a mill rate of 36.87.
This budget is recovering, rebounding, and reinvesting for our community. This budget is recovering from staff shortages, rusted-out public works and recreation town trucks (some that cannot even be used), cracked tennis courts, and outdated fire trucks. This budget supports every resident in more ways than one.
This budget is reinvesting and rebounding for our seniors, youth, and adults; it is ensuring more public safety, safer roads, schools, and maintaining recreational facilities, parks, cemeteries, and fields throughout the ENTIRE town.
On top of these positive changes mentioned above for our community, we are able to reduce the mill rate, which lowers taxes for the first time in a long time.
Town Council Member
Perspective of the Democrats on the Board of Education
The Superintendent and Board of Education worked very hard this year to approve a reasonable budget increase of 3.13%, which has now been reduced to 2.99% by the town manager. At this point, we have avoided direct impacts to staff and students, but an additional reduction will require us to cut items, programs and services from general education, as special education costs are fixed. These cuts will come at a time when our students have already lost too much. Although many great programs have been added over the years, such as Pathways and LEAP, we have also lost programs such as world languages in middle school and technology at Birch Grove Primary School. The pandemic also highlighted many shortcomings, such as 1:1 tech, which was put off for years, leaving students, staff and parents ill-equipped at a precarious time. Our current proposed budget allows us to maintain a counseling position at TMS during a vulnerable time for students, a THS/TMS math teacher and numeracy coach, and adds a Social Studies teacher, allowing us to add a state mandated course without removing sections of other popular courses.
Our classrooms are not overstaffed and our classrooms are not undersized. It is quite the opposite. Over the last nine years, class sizes in younger grades reach a level of 26 students per classroom. A significant amount of this year’s increase is for staff compensation, which was negotiated by a bipartisan committee. It is well deserved, it is fair, and it is necessary. Over the last few years, our staff has been stretched to their limits as they have worked to support our students, sometimes at the detriment of their health and personal lives. With the amount of pressure to resume full in-person school days, it is clear that the whole of what is provided within our buildings enriches the lives of our children greatly.
We recognize that budget increases impacts our whole community, but if there was ever a time to prioritize education, this is it. Education and career opportunities become increasingly competitive every year and Tolland students deserve the best education possible.
The BOE worked tirelessly, alongside Superintendent Willett, to produce a bi-partisan budget for this fiscal year that truly supports the needs of our students and staff. There were multiple budget workshops, Finance and Facilities meetings, and thorough conversations. Through these conversations each and every line item in the BOE budget and Capital Budget plan were dissected and discussed. No stone was left unturned. The budget was created to support the needs of our students and staff. Please support the BOE budget to ensure that the Town of Tolland’s educational system can remain strong.
We truly hope that the budget discussions continue to be around community needs, essential services, and properly maintaining and proper upkeep of our capital infrastructure. Now is the time to rebuild, rebound and reinvest in Tolland. Our students, staff and constituents deserve it.
Jenn Gallichant, Dana Philbin, Jayden Regisford, and Sophia Shaikh