Waterford - As the last of seven Board of Finance budget meetings came to a close on Wednesday, school officials presented board members with a proposed $44.6 million budget that holds one of the lowest proposed school budget increases in the town's history.
Finance board members do not have authority to adjust individual line items in the school budget and can only recommend that the school board adjust line items or make a reduction. But Wednesday, the finance board made no recommendations and approved the proposed budget 6-1. Board member Cheryl Larder was opposed.
The education budget, which shows a $423,405, or 0.96 percent, increase over the current $44.19 million, is data-driven and needs-based and reflects the goals the Board of Education has set, board Chairwoman Kathleen McCarty said.
"If you were to factor out the private tuition costs, we would be at zero percent," McCarty said. "I believe this is the lowest budget increase in Waterford's history. You'd be hard-pressed to find a budget increase elsewhere in the state of this nature that maintains the integrity of our educational programs."
The board's budget also reflects $350,000 in savings as a result of successful negotiations in health care costs. Superintendent Jerome Belair said the negotiations will reduce health care expenses by $1.6 million over the next five years.
In January, before negotiations were completed, the district's budget proposal reflected a 1.51 percent increase.
"This budget is about innovation. We recognize that just a small improvement can create a big difference, and there are a number of small improvements laced throughout this budget," Belair said. "We want this budget to support our next level of work. We never want to go on pause."
Also during the budget meeting Wednesday, finance board members reviewed the town's proposed insurance, debt service and retirement budgets.
Last month, the Board of Selectmen approved an overall budget of $81.9 million, a 4.16 percent increase over this year.
The proposed general government budget, including capital and debt service, was presented at $37,338,652, a 7.9 percent increase. However, the finance board has made some changes to that proposal, and a final, readjusted figure was unavailable Wednesday.
The public hearing on the town's budget has been rescheduled to 8 p.m. Wednesday at Town Hall. A special meeting of the finance board will immediately follow, and members are expected to then approve the 2013-14 town budget and forward it to the Representative Town Meeting.