By Mike Rettger and Andrew Okrongly
At its final budget meeting in early April, the Board of Finance adopted operating budgets for the town and school district totaling slightly more than $162 million. The budget will be the subject of the Annual Town Meeting on May 1 (at the Ridgefield Playhouse at 7:30 pm) and the annual Town Budget Referendum vote on May 9 (from 6 am to 8 pm at Yanity Gym).
The town expects a robust budget surplus this year of approximately $3.6 million, about $1 million more than 2022. That result, combined with a continued modest growth in the Town’s Grand List, produces a 1% increase for the coming year in the assessed tax mill rate (after adjusting for last year’s reassessment).
So what does a 1% increase get you as a resident and taxpayer? The answer is, quite a lot, in addition to the current level of programs and services…
- The Town is adding $1 million to the road maintenance budget – on top of the $600,000 increase for the current year. Road paving and related costs are rising, but the Town also wants to increase the extent of road repaving that can be done each year. The proposed 2023-24 road budget of $2,657,000 almost doubles the budget allocation from three years ago.
- The Town is also adding back two Police patrol positions that had fallen out of the budget several years ago due to turnover. This increase, together with the shift to a civilian dispatch call center over the past year, boosts the effective patrol officer presence across the town.
- The school district is revamping its security model, replacing a contract personnel system with a team of directly employed and managed security staff. As part of the change, the district has hired a director of school safety and security.
- Other major school district initiatives include a greater focus on visual performing arts across all grade levels, several new curriculum programs at the elementary level, additional technology resources for students and the district, and the continued and growing needs of special education students.
- Even with the use of a substantial portion of the current year budget surplus to supplement next year’s revenues, the town’s resulting unassigned fund balance (the town’s “rainy-day” reserve) will be over 11% of the proposed budget. This is the highest level of this ratio in many years, and responds to comments by Moody’s Analytics in its review of the town’s Aaa credit rating last year. The rainy day reserve is expected to reach $18 million by June, up from $16 million a year ago.
Helping to support the budget on the revenue side is expected growth in interest income due to higher interest rates, and continued growth in revenues from golf and recreation programs. Also, debt service costs will decrease from $8.2 million to $6.7 million (perhaps for the last year of this trend). These favorable factors are partially offset by a forecast for lower real estate-related revenue sources, like conveyance taxes and building permit fees.
In addition to the operating budgets, the Board of Finance approved a capital budget of $7.6 million for the coming year. This amount is higher than the recent historical average, partly because of several special situations. For example, the Town is taking advantage of Aquarion’s decision to extend a water main up Route 116 by paying to run the service to Ridgefield High School and Scotts Ridge Middle School. The approved capital budget also includes funding for a major renovation of both the exterior lighting and basketball, pickleball, and tennis courts at Yanity Gym, about $750,000 for school security upgrades, and $350,000 for an emergency generator at Ridgebury Elementary. This generator will make the elementary school building available as an emergency shelter site for the north part of Ridgefield in the future.
As a reminder, the development of the Town’s budget is the result of many months of detailed meetings and collaboration among the Board of Education, school district staff, the Board of Selectmen, numerous town departments, the Board of Finance, and the public. We outlined the process in an article last year, which can be viewed via this link: https://www.ridgefielddems.net/ridgefield-town-budgets-historical-context .
We encourage you to become familiar with the budget details, which can be viewed from this link to the Board of Finance page of the Town web site: https://www.ridgefieldct.org/board-finance/pages/2024-budget-public-hearing).
We hope you will support this year’s budget – it provides a high level of Town and school district services at a very modest tax rate increase that is substantially less than the current level of inflation.
Mike Rettger and Andrew Okrongly, Board of Finance members
Note that the views expressed here are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent nor have they been endorsed by the other members of the Board of Finance.