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Board of Finance: Budget Hearings, “Abuse” Pay, Region 20 Merger, Woodridge Lake Invoices

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Region 20 Superintendent Chris Leone submitted and discussed the first proposed budget for the new school district, which was approved by the Board of Education in April.
Eric Warner & Staff Writer


The Board of Finance received multiple proposed commission and department budgets and expenditure requests for the 2024-2025 fiscal year. Bob Valentine suggested that the Fire Marshall and Public Works departments review their budgets to reduce townwide budget costs. “The drivers are Fire and Public Works and so we need to have those looked at again if we’re not going to increase our budget by $600,000 in one year,” said Valentine. “So we have to set some priorities.”

Valentine wants the budget lowered to a 5% increase and for the Board of Selectmen to meet with the departments to discuss budget proposal cuts. Otherwise, the Board of Finance will have to decide where to cut budgets themselves. A large portion of the proposed increases are due to the Fire Company planning on purchasing a million-dollar fire truck. The Board of Finance planned to continue this discussion at another meeting on Wednesday, May 1st. An additional public hearing will be held on Wednesday, May 15th.

First Selectman Todd Carusillo sent the board a pay raise request from clerk Lee Kennedy, who recently resigned as clerk for the Library Board of Directors but still serves as clerk for the Board of Finance. She wanted a pay raise to compensate for all her work with multiple other commissions and boards. A subcommittee of the Board of Finance will review Kennedy’s request and other town employee wages. Kennedy additionally distributed a formal request to have an official job description provided to her with detailed responsibilities. She has been unable to find an official job description, and following April’s Library Board of Directors meeting, found that, “...I have no recourse if I’m bullied or harassed or any way intimidated.” Kennedy alleged that since people in elected town positions cannot be fired or otherwise penalized, there is no recourse for elected officials if they treat a town employee in a negative way. She was willing to accept that requirement but wants to have her job description clearly state that working in the town allows employees to be “harassed” or “intimidated” by elected officials. Valentine said employees do not have to put up with disrespectful actions from elected officials. However, the board claimed they don’t address policy issues and told Kennedy that the selectmen should address this issue. “The problem is I’m observing another employee being abused. That’s what my complaint is, it’s not about me,” Kennedy explained. “...I watched, two meetings I sat through. I left shaking, Todd, that’s how bad it was.” Kennedy submitted a formal complaint over these incidents, which is under review by the selectmen and the town’s labor attorney. (Note: See Library Board article, beginning on pg.1 )

For the First Selectman’s report, Carusillo reported that he is talking with another, unidentified company to opt out of Materials Innovation and Recycling Authority’s (MIRA) waste handling contract. He expects to save money by using this other company and is awaiting approval to opt out of MIRA’s three-year contract ending in 2027.

Carusillo also reported that The Woodridge Lake Property Owners Association (WLPOA) has not paid the town for sediment and catch basin work on the lake, and that once payment is received, it will go into Goshen’s capital and nonrecurring fund. (Note: According to WLPOA, they have been working with the Town to sort out invoices first provided to them in February for work performed over the past 14 years. WLPOA has been funding an account from which the Town has drawn payments for most of the past work, but some of the more recent work invoiced to WLPOA mistakenly included stormwater control projects which were not part of the agreed-upon funding for sedimentation control. The Association asked the Town for a detailed accounting and as documentation was provided and reviewed, applicable invoices were agreed upon, invoices that were not for sedimentation control were denied, and an account reconciliation proposal has recently been forwarded by WLPOA to the Town.)

Special Meeting 05/01/24

Region 20 Superintendent Chris Leone submitted and discussed the first proposed budget for the new school district, which was approved by the Board of Education in April. Litchfield High School and Wamago Regional High School will merge into Region 20 in July with LHS becoming Plumb Hill Middle School and WRHS becoming Lakeview High School.

The district continues to have declining school populations amid an aging populace. In the 2023-2024 school year, only 279 Goshen students were enrolled in school, a 15% decrease from 2019-2020’s peak of 330 students. Only 796 Litchfield students were enrolled in the 2023-2024 school year, a 5% decrease from 2019-2020’s peak of 842 students. Of all four towns encompassing Region 20, Goshen, Litchfield, Morris, and Warren, only Warren had a consistent enrollment of 119 students on average in the past five years. The rest of the region all had downward enrollment trends. “We are seeing the reality of a declining student population,” said Leone. “An aging population locally and less students in the system.”  Due to these trends, projected enrollments for 2024-2025’s are expected to be low. Goshen Center School is expected to only have 24 students in pre-k and ten students in kindergarten next year. Meanwhile Litchfield Center School is expected to have 31 students in pre-k and 43 students in kindergarten.

The region received multiple grants to support multiple educational programs, including the $178,000 Right to Read grant, a $120,000 mental health grant, and $22,000 CT Grown for CT Kids grant. The grants will help revise the district's K-5 reading program, support staff and student mental health programs, and provide 100 laying hens, 10 beef cattle, and 10 pigs for the Arethusa farm project. On top of these newly acquired funds, Leone hopes to replace the cafeteria floor at the Goshen Center School this summer.

In a budget projection review, First Selectman Todd Carusillo suggested Recreation Director Erin Reilly reduce the number of out-of-town campers admitted into Camp Cochipianee to save costs. Bob Valentine supported this decision to prioritize Goshen campers, “I sympathize with out-of-town parents who may or may not have a place for their kids for camp but if we’re going to ask boards and commissions to make adjustments, we should ask them to make adjustments that don’t affect…our residents and what services we provide to them…” With fewer campers, the town would have to pay fewer Camp Counselors in Training (CIT). The Recreation Department projects revenue for the 2024-2025 fiscal year of $85,000, a 42% increase from the 2023-2024 fiscal year.

Goshen capital requests currently total over $1 million, a 13% increase from last year. The current mill rate is 15.6 mills. The board intends to lower the mill rate to about 15 mills. Upon further inspection of the proposed budget, several errors were noticed, and the Board of Finance decided to continue this discussion on Wednesday, May 8th.

Special Meeting 05/08/24

The Board of Finance reviewed the revised Recreation Department budget. The new Recreation Department capital budget decreased from $28,700 to $23,700. Region 6 school district will return $247,000 to the town by October. With the merging of Region 20, the board expects costs per student for each town in the school district to go down. School costs are expected to continue to increase in the future but they expect the increase to be slow due to the merger.

Despite these revisions, many budgets have still drastically increased since last year.  Materials Innovation and Recycling Authority tipping fees have increased by $78,000, computer support increased by $10,000, county consultants increased by $3,300, and town clerk increased by $9,500. Bob Valentine believes there’s not enough work being done for town residents to warrant these increases. “Is it a pretty substantial increase? Yes,” said Valentine. “I would say there’s not enough work being done for the taxpayers in getting good value… We’ve got to do a better job on the administrative side to make certain that we don’t have these huge increases because that’s what’s driving the budget.” After a brief discussion on how inflation is causing costs for everything to increase, Ned Bixler motioned to approve the adjusted operating budget of $3,619,601. This was unanimously approved. He then motioned to approve the town capital budget of $1,026,850. This was also unanimously approved.

The Board of Finance will hold a public hearing on Wednesday, May 15th at 7:30 pm in Town Hall. Goshen’s town budget and special meeting will be held on Wednesday, May 29th at Goshen Center School’s cafeteria starting at 8 pm.