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How Waterford’s Budget Process Works

A Quick Look At How The System Works

Over the next few months, I’ll probably write a fair share of stories about the town budget. Before just rambling on and on, I figured it would be worth describing exactly how the budget process works.

First, it is important to note that the Board of Selectmen has all the budgets under its control except one, the Board of Education’s budget, which just happens to be the largest one by far. Last year for example, the Board of Education budget was $42.9 million of the town’s $74.3 million total.

So the Board of Selectmen approves all of the municipal budgets, a process that runs from January to early February (it is already complete). Then the Board of Selectmen sends the budget to the Board of Finance.

At the same time the Board of Education approves its budget, and then sends it to the Board of Finance. Once the Board of Finance receives the budget, the proposal can only be cut, nothing can be added.

Then the Board of Finance goes through every single budget, from the police to the library to public works, in a series of budget hearings that last all of March. Every budget the Board of Finance has complete line item control over, meaning it can cut dollars out of particular funds, except the Board of Education, which is one lump sum.

In other words, the Board of Finance can say the postage budget for the Youth Services Bureau is too high and cut the amount for postage by $50 (this happened last year). However, for the Board of Education, it can only say the bottom line number is good or they can cut the proposal.

The Board of Finance finishes their budget reviews at the end of March, and then it gets sent to the Representative Town Meeting. The RTM then spends three days, starting on the first Monday in May, to review all budgets. Again, like the Board of Finance, the RTM can only cut the proposal, it can’t add.

If the Board of Finance cuts something, the department can appeal the cut to the RTM. Once the RTM approves the budget in May, it becomes final.

Every budget hearing, just like every town meeting period, begins with a public comment section. Almost nobody ever goes to any of the meetings to say anything. If you do think the budgets are too high or too low or even if they are perfect, feel free to go down to one of the meetings and let the boards know.

Anyway, that’s it. I know, terribly boring, but that’s how it works.

Waterford Guy March 06, 2012 at 12:42 PM
Thanks for the info Paul. Its nice to get a broad overview of this stuff so we can be informed. Where can we find the proposals to review if we wanted to go make a public comment? Does the town website have the budgets?
Paul Petrone March 06, 2012 at 01:27 PM
The website does not, it only publishes it at the end of the fiscal year. But all the proposed budgets are public documents and you can get them at the Town Clerk's office or the finance office in Town Hall.
John Sheehan March 06, 2012 at 09:25 PM
One difference this year - The BOS has not yet officially transmitted the budget to the BOF because the Retirement Commission and the Insurance budgets have not been completed. That caused a small kerfluffel last night because the RTM budget presented for review was for $18,679. However the RTM at its February 6, 2012 meeting increased their budget to $18,934 due to an increase in the dues to the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities (CCM). The BOS has not taken final action on the budget so it is expected that the BOS will agree to that increase when final action is taken sometime after the Retirement Commission and the Insurance budgets are presented. That means at the final BOF meeting on MAR 28, the BOF will have to increase the RTM budget to the requested $18,934 and then apply the $500 reduction that was voted last night. Nothing hard is ever easy.

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