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Stratford mayor’s budget plan would refill jobs

March 14, 2018 GMT

STRATFORD — Mayor Laura Hoydick this week handed the Town Council her proposed $220.9 million, 2018-19 budget, one that offers a slight drop in the mill rate while funding positions in the Police Department and elsewhere that had gone wanting owing to a hiring freeze.

“The grand list increased by more than 2 percent, which enabled us move forward while achieving a modest decrease in taxes,” Hoydick said.

Two more police officer positions would be filled, along with three jobs in the Public Works Department and one at the 911 call center. A town planner would be brought on board, too.

Her proposed budget would require a mill rate of 39.90, a slight drop from the 39.97 in effect now. This would mean that a home with an assessed value of $200,000 would see a tax bill that’s about $14 less than it was this year.

Most of the added positions would fill vacancies caused by attrition over the past two years — jobs that were never filled because of a hiring freeze. The mayor said that the planner — which is a new position — would report to Jay Habansky, the planning and zoning administrator.

“With all of the growth we’ve been seeing and the projects in the pipeline, Jay has had a pretty full plate,” Hoydick said. “These are all key positions that we really can’t do without.”

The $220.9 million spending package includes $111.9 million to fund the Stratford school district, a 2.66 percent increase. The remainder, $108.9 million, calls for a spending increase of 0.42 percent. Put together, there is a proposed 1.54 percent spending increase.

One position, that of the part-time arts coordinator, would change under the budget. The job currently is structured as a Shakespeare Theater-based arts coordinator who reports to the Town Council chairperson. Moving forward, Hoydick said, it would be a part-time position, called the economic and community development coordinator, who would be assigned to the Department of Economic Development in Town Hall.

The new position would pay less, too — about $30,000 compared to the $40,000 salary paid to the arts coordinator. The American Shakespeare Festival Theatre on Elm Street has been shuttered for about 35 years, although its grounds have hosted plays and other events over the years.

The proposed budget will now face scrutiny from the Town Council. Unlike in most other cities and towns of Stratford’s size, there is no separate board of finance. There will be a series of deliberations and public hearings on the budget; the schedule for these meetings will be announced soon.

It’s expected that Hoydick’s budget, her first, will see smooth sailing in the weeks ahead, in part because she is a Republican, and will be dealing with a friendly Republican-majority Town Council. It’s supposed to be approved by May 12.

A year ago, then-mayor John Harkins, a Republican, and the Democratic-majority Town Council could never agree on a 2017-18 budget. Harkins vetoed budgets proposed by the Town Council three times, calling their spending plans “irresponsible and even illegal.”

The council at the time had a majority of six “hard liners” who refused to pass a budget with a mill rate increase, but Harkins said that their proposals would have resulted in an erosion of the town’s bond rating and steep cuts in services, too.

The 2017-18 budget — essentially the one put forth by Harkins back in March 2017 — was finally OK’d by the new council that was ushered in with the November election.