COVENTRY — Three months after rejecting the level-funded Fiscal Year 2021 budget presented to them during the town’s first all-day referendum, Coventry residents will vote again today, this time on a budget that totals $110 million. 

As Tuesday’s virtual financial town meeting got underway, council president Kerry McGee urged residents to vote after barely more than 2,000 of them turned out for the first referendum in July.

“I encourage everyone to exercise their right and responsibility on Thursday to vote at our all-day referendum,” he said. 

The budget before voters today is $2.8 million above the budget that was rejected, and would result in a tax levy increase of 3.8 percent. 

Factoring in results of the town’s recent statistical revaluation, the residential tax rate under the proposed budget would be $19.80 per $1,000 of valuation, compared to the current rate of $22.24, and the commercial rate would be $23.87, compared to $26.81.

The level-funded budget would have meant a tax rate of $18.97 for residential properties, and $22.87 for commercial.

Of the overall proposed budget, $33.1 million would go to the municipal side, including $30 million for operations, $2.6 million to cover bonded debt service and $400,000 for capital improvements.

Operating on a level-funded budget over the last few months has required some significant cuts. If voters approve the new proposed budget then both the public works and parks and recreation departments, each of which has seen painful reductions as a result of level funding, would get bumps in their budgets.

The proposed budget also adds salaries for four new positions within the town, including a tax assessor clerk and a floating human resources clerk. A second associate planner could be hired in the planning department, which “is getting inundated with development,” Warzycha said. The budget would also cover the salary of an economic development professional, which Warzycha said is “desperately needed.”

The budget allocates $100,000 toward a performance audit, as well. That should cover about half of the overall cost of the audit, Warzycha said, and the hope is that the rest of the cost will be included in next fiscal year’s budget. 

The schools, meanwhile, have requested an overall budget of $74.3 million, $48.9 million of which will come from local appropriations if the budget gets approved today. 

The proposed budget includes the total $1.8 million increase requested by the school district to fund its operations. 

“We’ve been consistent with [this request],” Supt. Craig Levis said during his presentation Tuesday of the school district’s budget. “It’s going to put our children in a position where they can thrive.”

Even if it gets the additional $1.8 million, the school district still has had to cut $1.5 million from its operations, achieved through contractual changes, staff cuts and various line item reductions.

While the school’s operating expenditures have grown by just 1 percent, or $986,000, its state aid is projected to decrease by at least $897,000 for the 2021 fiscal year.  

Due to the switch in March to distance learning, the school department did see cost reductions in the last fiscal year in areas like utilities, transportation, spring athletics and substitute teaching. 

All told, the district saved around $1.2 million. However, that will be used to offset the costs of the pandemic protocols required for reopening schools. 

Since the beginning of the fiscal year, the school district has been operating month-to-month off of one-twelfth of its total 2020 budget. It's also been receiving only 91 percent of its state aid since the state hasn’t yet adopted a budget. 

“If that continues through the year, that will be an additional reduction of $1.95 million,” Levis said of receiving less state aid. 

As he wrapped up his presentation, Levis spoke briefly of the impact the referendum's outcome will have on the schools, and of the importance of supporting education.

“Every generation before us has made a sacrifice,” Levis said. “Today, when we’re talking about sacrifice, we’re not talking about the sacrifices that our families have made in the past, we’re talking about [making a sacrifice] for our youth.”

“This community does an excellent job taking care of their seniors,” he continued. “We’re asking now for this community to take care of their youth through this budget process.”

Residents can vote between 7 a.m. and 8 p.m. today, Thursday. District 1 will vote at St. Francis Church, 132 Peckham Lane; District 2 will go to the Coventry Town Hall, 1670 Flat River Road; District 3 will vote at Club Jogues, 184 Boston St.; District 4 will vote at the Coventry Senior Center, 50 Wood St.; and District 5 will go to the Coventry High School cafeteria, 40 Reservoir Road. 

kgravelle@ricentral.com

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