Waterford - The Board of Selectmen on Thursday finished its review of the town's proposed 2013-14 budgets and approved a general government and Board of Education combined budget of $81.9 million, a 4.16 percent increase over this year.
The proposed general government budget, including capital and debt service, is $37,338,652, a 7.9 percent increase, while the proposed Board of Education budget is $44,622,768, a 0.96 percent increase.
Both budgets will be forwarded to the Board of Finance for review beginning in March.
In the board's last budget session Thursday evening, the selectmen approved the last three of the town's proposed 2013-14 budgets for health insurance, retirement and pension benefits and debt service, agreeing that they were mostly "stuck" with having to approve those budgets because they hold mostly contractual increases.
Increases in those budgets are $329,223 for health insurance, $108,894 in retirement benefits and $1.6 million for the town's $5.03 million debt service.
First Selectman Daniel Steward said debt service - at 47.6 percent the largest incremental increase in the total budget proposal - is "entirely for the schools" and constitutes half of the town's total budget increase. He said that debt service will also "incrementally increase" for the next two years.
"The high school debt will come in this summer and the following year," Steward said before Thursday's meeting. "After those two years, we have to determine what else we need to do throughout town. We've left every other building in this community behind while we've been doing the schools, so now we have to go back to figure out what we can do, but we won't do much too fast."
It's been three years since the Board of Selectmen introduced a policy where all departmental budgets come to the selectmen before the town budget is submitted to the Board of Finance. That process, Steward said, allows the selectmen to have some impact on the budget.
"I have a problem bringing forward a budget that I haven't reviewed," Steward said. "I asked the departments to minimize their increases, and a majority of the departments came in very close to being where I wanted them at about a zero, but you can't get there because a lot of times there are differentials and contracts and expenses that go up."
In early January, Superintendent of Schools Jerome Belair first presented a school budget with a 1.51 percent increase, but that increase was reduced after further review and input from the Board of Education. The school board had originally budgeted for a 12 percent "worst-case scenario" increase, Assistant Superintendent Craig Powers said earlier in the week.
The adjusted school budget included a $228,269 in savings in health insurance costs.