$11.5 Million Budget Plan Proposed

Million Budget Plan Proposed

CHESTER – About twenty residents attended a public hearing where Board of Finance and Board of Education officials discussed details of a proposed $11.5 million budget.

Town government expenditures made up $3.61 million or 31.39 percent while capital expenditures cost $118,500, or 1.03 percent.

Town expenditures are $125,557, or 3.36 percent, less than last year while capital expenditures are $30,688, or 20.57 percent, less than last year.

Over half of the 2007/08 budget is allocated for education with Chester Elementary School receiving $3.91 million or 34 percent of the budget while the town’s share of the Region 4 budget is $3.86 million, which is 33.58 percent of the budget.

Chester Elementary School spending increased by $185,930, or 4.99 percent, over last year while Region 4 spending increased by $350,460, or 9.98 percent, over last year.

“The increase in participation in Region 4 hit us 10 percent even though Region 4 spending only increased by five percent. We expected the increase,” Chester First Selectman Tom Marsh said.

Expenses of the Region 4 budget is divided among the three participating towns, which include Chester, Deep River, and Essex, based on average daily enrollment.

Kim Caron, Superintendent of Region 4 Schools, said the biggest increases that occurred in the Region 4 budget came as the result of a new sixth grade teacher, teacher and administration salaries, and a new union contract.

Despite increased spending in education, Board of Finance member Kim Just said Chester benefited from a 1.9 percent increase in the grand list over the past year which generated $215,000 of revenue.

The board allocated $253,837 from the unallocated fund balance; Just said, meaning the mill rate would only need to be increased by 0.75 mills.

Currently, Chester’s mill rate is 22.37 mills and the increase of 0.75 mills would mean a total of 23.12 mills, or $23.12 in taxes for each $1,000 of assessed property value.

For a resident who has a home assessed at $100,000, the mill rate increase would mean an additional $75 in annual taxes.

This would still allow the fund balance to have $1.33 million on June 30, 2008, which is the last day of the 2007-08 fiscal year.

Borrowing money from that fund to offset tax increases is a “practice we are trying to move away from,” Just said.

One year that the town relied heavily on using savings to offset tax increases was the 2004/05 fiscal year when approximately $875,000 was allocated.

Marsh warned residents that proposed state budgets from both Governor Rell and the Connecticut State Legislature call for less state aid to towns like Chester.

The reduction in state aid comes at a time when the state expects to receive additional revenue if specific proposals are approved such as creating a sales tax on all clothing items and items bought by Connecticut residents over the Internet, Marsh said.


See What Your Neighbor is Trading with Social Finance

Trading with Social Finance

Not too long ago, the Internet observed the emergence of a new generation of websites – social networking. Those like UK-based Bebo, US home-grown FaceBook and MySpace (acquired by News Corporation for more than US$580 million) have been the pioneers to lead this genre on the Internet. It’s been a hot topic, and it’s hardly impossible to read about news on social networking here and social networking there. More recently, a new league of niche social networking websites have cropped up, tapping into all fields from sports to politics to the world of stocks and finance.

With the robust US economy combined with the strong market performance, many entrepreneurs saw the space of financial social networking untapped. According to Alexa.com, as early as March 2006 financial networking sites like Bullpoo.com, Feelingbullish.com and Stockpickr.com were born. This has not gone unnoticed. On the Wall Street Journal, Mike Gross, a 24-year-old Toronto resident discovered Bullpoo.com in 2006, and says he started actively using the site to get investment ideas about stocks and sectors — such as Asian stocks — from other members.

These websites help like-minded investors interact with each other and share investment ideas, from writing personal blogs to opening up a transparent portfolio. Users are then ranked by other community members based largely on their contributed content and accuracy of stock picks and forecasts.

It’s a large space that has been attracting a lot of media attention in recent months. With an average of a US$1.14 million investment portfolio, and over 70% of a 78 million baby booming market browsing the internet for personal finance and investing sites (according to Kiplinger’s Personal Finance Retirement Report 2005), its no wonder that many major media companies and brokerages are getting interested in entering this space.

Zecco.com, a US-based online brokerage launched in October 2006 offers commission-free trading, saying that it leverages its social community to generate advertising revenue to support its free services. Elsewhere, Reuters announced that it too is also planning to launch its own version of MySpace this year, as published on the Guardian Unlimited. But critics like Charlene Li, an analyst at Forrester Research Inc., say that risk of fraud is high from discussing your financial affairs with online strangers. What’s more is that the usefulness of the sites depends in large part on the size of the communities. And so, while having a large audience, the sheer size and diversity of services of companies like Zecco.com and Reuters might make it difficult to manage the focused communities they want to create. On the other hand, startups like Bullpoo.com and Feelingbullish.com may be nimble enough to stay in touch with their communities, and avoid the risks that larger companies encounter. The question of who will take over this rapidly expanding market is still up in the air. Will the small companies, which lack experience, funding, and exposure, be able to stand up to the media and financial juggernauts? Perhaps a successful middle ground lies in the combination of their strengths: the focus and creative flexibility of the startups with the resources and expertise of the corporations.

The web has been changing the way we exchange information in revolutionary ways, and challenged the traditional mindsets of the media and the way we use it. Who would have thought that the most comprehensive encyclopedia is managed by anybody and everybody who wants to write something? Yet Wikipedia has proven that a self managed community can be successful in administering such a complex information source. Can the same apply for social finance? Is it truly dangerous as some analysts portend?

Finance has always been a conventional field. Perhaps it’s time it explored this new territory. I’ve enjoyed trading actively on my virtual portfolio, so I’ve tried it, and I’ve liked it.