Orange received a two-hit punch to the pocketbook last week as state officials announced immediate cuts in state aid to the town for education and capital improvements. In an effort to address its more than $56.2 million deficit, the state will reduce funding to the town’s education budget by $106,088, a six percent cut in the $1,615,314 it currently provides in aid. The cuts only impact the Orange elementary schools; they do not affect the Amity Regional school systems.
A formula calculating Connecticut’s wealthiest and most distressed communities was used to determine the cuts with towns like Greenwich losing up to 90 percent – or $1.3 million of its funding and poorer communities like New Haven losing .2 %, or $250,000 of its nearly $155 million budget. First Selectman Jim Zeoli said the cuts are earmarked by the state to reduce spending on special needs programs in the elementary schools. “Doing this at mid-stream in a budget year is challenging,” Zeoli said. “Since the Board of Education’s budget is fixed, the Board of Finance may have to make up for the cuts.”
Superintendent of Schools Dr. Vince Scarpetti is more concerned with the cuts that may lie ahead. “With continual increases in unfunded State mandates and the yet to be determined revised formula for future Educational Cost Sharing (ECS) funds, we may have a budgeting challenge moving forward,” he said. “We will manage through the end of this year, though the true impact cannot be determined until we know the revised ECS formula.”
While Zeoli wasn’t surprised to learn of the state-wide cuts to education funding, he admits to being “completely blindsided” to learn the Local Capital Improvement Program (LoCIP) was freezing funds to municipalities. “They haven’t been able to stop the hemorrhaging of their own financial problems at a state level so now they are passing it on to the municipalities which impacts to residents in another way—by eliminating resources to the towns. They recognized they just can’t keep hitting people with more and more taxes – liquor, tobacco, groceries, goods, gas….the list goes on and on but they have to recognize the people of the state are facing the same issues in their own households—rising costs and frozen, stagnant dollars.”
Zeoli had met with Town Engineer Bob Hiza to begin planning springtime capital improvement projects just days before receiving the letter from the Office of Policy and Management that Orange would not receive any LoCIP funds in 2017. “I thought the money was in an account designated to Orange and available with project approval,” he said. Zeoli was expecting an additional $104,000 this year to add to the town’s LoCIP account that currently has $420,641 earmarked for capital improvements. Hiza and Zeoli’s to-do list for the spring included continuing road work improvements on Derby Milford Road and several other streets, and refurbishing the locker room at High Plains Community Center. LoCIP funds have paid for several projects at Fred Wolfe Park and the community center as well as a new roof on the Public Works’ garage. “I will either have to be creative and find money elsewhere or put some things on the back burner for now,” Zeoli said.
If there’s any good news to the story, it’s that Orange, unlike the state, is in sound financial stead. “We are in good condition to weather the storm. It’s not a cakewalk but we are ok and should remain ok as this continues,” Zeoli said.
By Laura Fantarella – Orange Town News Correspondent