If ever there was an appropriate theme song for this coming years’ budget, it’s “Landslide” by Fleetwood Mac according to Board of Finance Chair Joe Pryor. In a lengthy chat about the financial challenges the town faces, Pryor noted how two major weather events disrupted this year’s budget process.

Damage from two separate storms, one in West Cornwall and the other on Everest Hill Road caused significant unbudgeted outlays of almost $800,000 that were not eligible for state or federal reimbursement, leaving the entire bill with the town. That, and another increase in Cornwall’s share of Regional High School District No. 1 (Region 1) are the key drivers in the fiscal year 2024 budget according to Pryor. 

The Cornwall Board of Finance has proposed a budget for July 1, 2024, through June 30, 2025, of $8,061,110 that is $292,537 (3.8%) higher than this year’s. 

The proposed increases are driven by Cornwall’s share of Region 1 costs going up $177,768 (+9.6%), an increase in the Board of Education’s budget of $113,319 (+4.3%), increases in contributions to capital projects of $95,000 (+15.2%)and operating expense increases by the Board of Selectmen of $90,706 (+3.9%) offset by a reduction in the town’s debt service of $184,255 (-53.4%).

Pryor expressed his frustration over Region 1 increases, noting that while Cornwall has only one more student planning to attend High School there next year, bringing our total to 36, our costs ballooned almost 10%. “The price per student is more than $30,000 a year, it seems crazy! But while they do a good job managing their budget, the allocation of costs is based on the number of students per town, there’s nothing we can do.” 

The Cornwall Board of Education proposed budget increase of 4.3% is largely driven by contractual teacher and administration salary raises offset by reductions in supplies, equipment and tech services. The Board of Selectmen has proposed a similar bump of 3.9% fueled by increases in health insurance, sanitation and voting registrar costs, the later a result of state legislative mandates for early voting. 

Contributions to capital projects is estimated to increase just over 15% to $720,000, a level we have not seen for several years. Pryor emphasized that the budget includes $150,000 for anticipated storm damage repairs, a trend he expects to continue into the future. Once again, the capital budget does not include money for town building upgrades, but First Selectman Gordon Ridgway believes that there are sufficient funds to allow us to begin planning for this much needed work.

The reduction in debt service of $184,255 is a result of the town paying off the bond for work on the CCS during this coming fiscal year.  

The significant operational and capital cost increases have been partially offset by a transfer of $200,000 from the Unassigned General Fund, also known as the “rainy day fund.” Last year $350,000 was transferred to fill the budget gap, but Pryor said the Board was reluctant to use up so much of the reserve this year. “With so many unknowns and patterns of costly weather events, we decided to act conservatively. We like to keep several month’s operating costs in reserve in case of emergencies and did not want to deplete the fund any further.”

The net result of the budget proposal is a mill rate increase of just over 5% to 15.44 from last year’s 14.70, “still

historically in line with our mill rate over the past decade,” Pryor noted. “In fact, it’s slightly less than the average over the past 10 years.”

Prior believes that this is a fair and realistic budget and as he has said in previous years, “each of us has the ability to decide that for ourselves. Feedback from the town is very important to us and we take it seriously.” Proposed budgets are available all over town and online for review. After the in-person budget hearing April 19 at 7:30 P.M. in the Community Room of the Library, the Board of Finance will consider all feedback they received and at their next regular meeting May 9 will make any adjustments and finalize the proposed budget. Then on May 17 at 7:30 P.M. at the CCS there will be an in-person public vote and if it passes, the mill rate will be set and the budget will go into effect beginning July 1.

—Bob Meyers