WATERTOWN — The Town Council, meeting Monday, April 5, approved a 2021-2022 town budget of $31,635,098 and education budget of $47,939,863 for a total of $79,574,961 and a tax increase of 1.26 as percent compared to last year.
During its deliberations, the council considered the impact of a tax increase during a difficult year and chose to cut 1 percent from the proposed town budget and $500,000 from the education budget as presented by the Board of Education.
The budget will now move to a public hearing 7 p.m. Wednesday, April 21,
As the council made its final review of the numbers, Mark Raimo, town manager, explained that the budget included funds to bring an intern from the University of Connecticut who would identify grant opportunities.
He noted that the practice had been done in the past.
Regarding the fire department budget, the council considered a ladder truck that is anticipated as a need for the future.
They questioned the buildings in town that would require a ladder truck, learning from the chief that the apparatus is used on every call.
A ladder truck can be used to move firefighters quickly and safely in a two-story home and would definitely be used to respond to emergencies at the Siemen building.
Ms. Rosa invited the council members to ask questions regarding the police budget as the council considered a $60,000 increase in IT costs.
Police Chief Joshua Bernegger answered that the increase includes a $41,000 for consulting to review the maintenance of the town’s IT system, which was recently upgraded.
He said he’d agreed with the town manager that an outside vendor would be a wise resource given the limited town resources available.
The council considered the recommendation of succession planning as they reviewed the public works budget, recognizing that a significant number of employees in that department would retire within a few years.
All members of the Board of Education and the superintendent were present at the meeting.
Superintendent Dr. Alison Villanueva highlighted the special education costs as a significant portion of the budget, describing the funds needed to right the ship, and an effort to identify approximately $800,000 to support those costs.
There could be an opportunity to bring students, who are currently educated out of district, back to Watertown Public Schools, if the budget would be funded as presented. That shift could save more than $200,000.
She also noted an opportunity to address requests for summer programming that could be vital as students come off the challenges of the pandemic.
“It is a very lean budget,” Dr. Villanueva said, adding that further reductions would have immediate impacts at the student level.
In other business, the council unanimously accepted the donation of a Harley-Davidson Road King police motorcycle for the Watertown Police Department.
The donations of the motorcycle was made by Theraplant LLC for a value of $16,117 and the emergency lights, siren and graphics, helmet and microphone will be donated by the Hometown Foundation of Cheshire for a total value of $9,768.85.
The town would be responsible for insuring the motorcycle at $750 per year.
Chief Bernegger told the council, “One of the greatest benefits of motorcycle patrol is the connection to the community. Several studies have shown that citizens feel more comfortable approaching a motorcycle officer for assistance.”
He noted that motorcycle officers are not hidden in a patrol vehicle and motorcycle patrol units are visible in the community while conducting funeral escorts and dignitary escorts as well as performing ceremonial duties such as leading parades.
Chief Bernegger added that motorcycles are highly maneuverable and make excellent tools for traffic law enforcement in congested areas.