August 21, 2014

Proposed $15.3 Million Deep River Budget Plan Fails in Low Turnout Referendum

DEEP RIVER— A proposed $15,302,887 budget plan for 2014-2015 was rejected Tuesday on a 115-78 vote after an eight hour referendum. The board of selectmen and board of finance will hold a special joint meeting Thursday to consider any possible changes to the spending plan, which would then be submitted for a second vote at a town meeting expected in the second week of June.

While the spending plan presented Tuesday included a proposed $3.78 million town government budget, a $5.47 appropriation for Deep River Elementary School, and the town’s $5.6 million share of the Region 4 budget, only the town and elementary school portions of the total spending plan are still subject to revision by the board of finance. The Region 4 budget was already approved on a 319-253 vote in a May 6 referendum, with Chester and Essex votes supporting the budget over a 156-69 opposing vote in Deep River.

The total spending plan rejected Tuesday would have required a 0.85 mill hike in the property tax rate, for a new rate of 25.93 mills. Of a total spending increase of $523,376, $442,063 is for the town’s share of the Region 4 budget that is determined by the number of students from Deep River attending Valley Regional High School and John Winthrop Middle School. A higher than anticipated increase in the Deep River average daily membership at the two schools made the town’s taxpayers responsible for a larger share of the Region 4 budget.

First Selectman Richard Smith noted that with the Region 4 amount locked in, there is little the selectmen and finance board can do to reduce the increase in the tax rate. “You’ve got to get close to $100,000 in cuts to have any real impact on the mill rate,” he said, adding that both the town and elementary school budgets are already “very tight.”
But Finance Board Chairman John Bauer said the board should make a final review of the town and elementary school budgets for any possible cuts, even with the understanding that cuts in these appropriations would bring little change to the tax rate. Bauer said the second vote on any revised budget should be done by voters at a town meeting, not a referendum. “It’s a waste of money for the amount of people who showed up today,” he said.