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The Day – East Lyme finance board approves proposed 2022-23 budget

East Lyme — The Council of Finance voted on Wednesday to approve a proposed city and school budget for 2022-2023 of $80.6 million, a 3.4% increase from the current budget.

The board is now holding a public hearing on the budget on April 25 at 7 p.m. in the high school auditorium.

The council’s proposal calls for $54.1 million to be spent on education, a 3.6% increase, which is $500,000 less than Superintendent of Schools Jeffrey Newton’s proposed budget. The council’s proposed $20.2 million general government budget is a 2.9% increase after it cut $205,120 off the board of selection’s proposal.

The proposed budget also calls for $5.6 million to be spent on debt service and $636,860 on capital improvements.

The council began its deliberations on Monday and concluded them on Wednesday.

The members of the financial council made it clear from the start of their deliberations that both the proposed budgets of municipal and school officials were too high. On Monday, they revised the government budget line by line. However, the board only has control over the bottom line of the school budget and not over individual items.

John Birmingham, Vice-Chairman of the Council of the Exchequer, questioned the proposed increase in the school budget at a time when he said the city’s school population was shrinking and many in the city were struggling financially due to the impact of the pandemic. He noted that the proposed budget increases from surrounding school districts average 2.56%.

“We have to take into account the seniors and people who can no longer work,” he said.

Treasury chair Denise Hall said Monday that the proposed school increase was an “outlier” compared to other school districts. She said there is a way to balance the needs of the students with residents over 55.

“Our great school system is reflected in the value of the property,” she said. “It’s such a balancing act trying to make sure we take care of young and old alike.”

Members of the financial council initially discussed a cut to the school budget of between $625,000 and $800,000.

But Eric Bauman, chairman of the Board of Education, said such a cut would have “a dramatic impact” on the school system.

“I can’t imagine finding that amount in the proposed budget,” he said.

On Wednesday, board financial officer Richard Steel suggested that the school cut its proposed budget by $500,000.

“I was trying to keep the pain parity between the school side and the city side,” he said.

To reduce the cut in the school budget, members of the financial council agreed to cut the general government by $205,120. The board did this, among other things, by postponing the hiring of one of the two new police officers by six months and by doing the same with one of the two new fire service positions.

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