Region 16 reduces school payments for towns

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By Elio Gugliotti, Editor

PROSPECT — A recent reduction in the education payments Beacon Falls and Prospect pay to Region 16 almost completely offset a projected surplus in the 2018-19 school budget that never materialized and left Beacon Falls short of revenue.

Historically, the Region 16 Board of Education included projected budget surpluses as revenue when building a budget for a new fiscal year to offset the towns’ education expenses. The 2019-20 school budget included $300,000 in revenue — about $114,000 for Beacon Falls and $186,000 for Prospect based on the ratio of students from the towns — from an anticipated surplus in the 2018-19 education budget.

Last August, after the school budget and both town budgets were approved, the school board voted to transfer surplus funds to its capital non-recurring account. Regional school boards can transfer up to 1% of their budgets to capital non-recurring accounts under state law. The region ended the 2018-19 fiscal year with a $243,000 surplus — not the projected $300,000 — which was transferred to the capital non-recurring account, leaving nothing left to use a revenue for the towns.

The transfer affected the towns differently.

Beacon Falls, where officials budgeted the surplus as revenue, was left a little more than $114,000 short for its education payments. If the town had to appropriate additional funds to cover the shortfall, voters would have to approve it. Any town expenditure over $20,000 has to go to a town meeting for a vote.

In late March, the region reduced the towns’ payments by $287,800 — about $110,000 for Beacon Falls and $177,000 for Prospect. The $287,807 came from savings the region realized since schools are closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Beacon Falls is still short a little more than $4,000. First Selectman Gerard Smith said it would be better if the region made up the entire shortfall, but the roughly $4,000 gap isn’t a deal-breaker. He said the town essentially got most of the revenue it budgeted, but in a different way.

Prospect Mayor Robert Chatfield previously said he didn’t factor the projected surplus into the town’s budget as revenue this fiscal year. So, the lack of a school budget surplus didn’t impact the town’s revenue stream.

Chatfield said he will seek to transfer the $177,000 the town won’t spend on education from the general fund to capital non-recurring account to put toward school expenses for the 2020-21 fiscal year. The Town Council is scheduled to take up the transfer at its meeting Tuesday.