Posted on 12 March 2010.
By: Maria Moore
The Town Government budget for the coming fiscal year (beginning on July 1, 2010) which First Selectman Dan Jerram presented at the Board of Selectmen Special meeting last night showed a 0.2% increase which, he said, met the request of the Board of Finance for a 0% increase budget. Â To get there, the budget cut funding for 4 positions as well as cutting funding to other government-supported areas. Â By the end of the meeting, however, the selectmen approved a proposed budget with a 2.6% increase, in which one of the positions cut had been reinstated and other funding cuts to several areas had been restored. Â Careful to abide by the Board of Finance’s request, the budget Dan will be presenting to the Board of Finance at their Saturday morning workshop tomorrow, March 13 will be the 0.2% increase budget, with the restored items that would bring the budget to the 2.6% increase level highlighted in yellow.
The 0.2% increase budget gives a total Government Budget of $4,908,408 which is $7,397 higher than the current year. Â The 2.6% increase budget gives a total Government Budget of $5,028,750 which is $127,747 higher than the current year.
The Thursday evening meeting, on March 11 had been rescheduled from Tuesday, March 9 and it was attended by employees from five municipal departments who sat among the public, all awaiting news of how the proposed budget would effect their departments. Â Also at the meeting were Board of Finance members Alesia Kennerson and Reggie Smith.
Cuts in Funding in Proposed Budget
Dan first read through the 0.2% budget, highlighting the cuts made. Â The most important cuts, those to personnel, were as follows:
- Public Safety: One full-time resident state trooper cut;
- Highway Department: One full-time road crew member cut;
- Land Use Office: One full-time Administrative assistant cut;
- Rec Department: One part-time Administrative Assistant position not funded;
There was also a 50% cut in the number of hours worked by the Building Inspector who currently works part-time. Â The First Selectman said that on an annualized basis, the Building Inspector made over $80,000, more than anyone else at Town Hall. Â Dan did increase the Planning Department’s Professional Fees line item by $10,000, in case the town needed to fund more hours by the Building Inspector. Â The Tax Collector’s Assistant also saw a 21.6% cut in her salary; she also works part-time.
Of the above positions, the resident state trooper position was reinstated in the 2.6% budget. Â Dan said that the Rec Department will now be funding directly their administrative assistant position out of the fees Rec charges for their programs.
The cutting of the Land Use Administrative Assistant’s position caused concern. Â One resident pointed out that it didn’t make sense to cut her position at $28,000 and then have to allocate $15,000 to unemployment. Â Dan said that her salary with benefits was about $50,000, and that the $15,000 represented more than one employee; the union representative at the meeting said she thought the unemployment figure was closer to $20,000. Â Later in the discussion, Tom Klebart said he’d like to look at ways of restoring the Land Use Administrative Assistant position. Â The position is still shown as having been cut in the 2.6% proposed budget.
Government-supported areas that showed funding cuts in the 0.2% budget included the following:
- The two town libraries, each of whose Â funding was cut by 15.8% (total cut $41,000);
- Communications expense cut by 41.8% (cut $3,590);
- Assessors’ data processing ($2,000);
- Animal control fund cut by 8.9% (cut $1,300);
- Ambulance Association cut by 9.5% (cut 11,582).
Of the above cuts, the 2.6% budget restored all of the funding to the two town libraries.
Beth Paul, the Assessor was present at the meeting and she was opposed to eliminating the Vision online service her office now makes available to the public. Â She said it’s a very popular service and she would have reallocated some of her budget to make sure that the online service was continued. Â The First Selectman indicated that she was free to move around her funds as she wished; he was interested in the bottom-line savings.
Other town department heads also voiced their concern in not having been asked for their budgets before decisions affecting their departments had been made. Â One department head asked if they could meet as a group with the First Selectman to go over the budget; Dan responded that he had asked about items in their budget, and did not respond to their request for a meeting.
Increases in Funding in Proposed Budget
Employee Salaries and Benefits: Union employees at Town Hall are scheduled to receive a 3.6% salary increase under their union contract. Â The First Selectman also increased elected officials’ pay by 2%, including his own salary; his administrative assistant, although not union, is receiving a 3.6% increase.
In the discussion portion of the meeting, Selectman Tom Klebart said that he felt that the town leaders should get a 0% raise to make a statement in such a tough economy. Â Dan said he gave all elected officials a 2% raise. Â Selectman Bruce Gresczyk supported the raise for the First Selectman saying it would be difficult to attract talented people to the position if it didn’t pay adequately. Â The raise was left in place and the First Selectman’s pay is scheduled to increase to $65,309 for the coming fiscal year.
Employee health insurance costs show an 18% increase, a dollar amount of $73,878. Dan said that he has asked the employees’ union to take on a larger portion of that costs; employees now pay 10% of the premium. Â The employees’ Pension Fund was also increased by 9.1%, thereby allocating funds for professional management, which in the past had not been budgeted, Dan said.
Highway Department Increases
Despite the cutting of one full-time road crew member who has yet to be identified, the Highway Department saw an overall 4.2% increase in its proposed budget, an additional $55,061, bringing its proposed budget to $1,367,116. Â The following items in the Highway Department have been allocated additional funds:
- Tree removal was increased by233%, an additional $14,000;
- Snow sand account was increased by 20%, an additional $10,000;
- Snow salt was also increased by 20%, an additional $10,000;
- and the crack and chip seal account was increased by 369.8%, from $63,860 to $300,000.
These increases were to make up for underfunding of road work in the recent past. Â The crack and chip seal account, in particular, was not used to chip seal the roads, leaving them in a “deplorable” condition, according to Selectman Bruce Gresczyk, who has been the Interim Highway Superintendent for the past two and a half months. Â This additional funding will allow the town to chip seal approx. 16 miles of roads next year.
Brown’s Corner To Be Completed With “Reallocated Funds”
Completing the work at Brown’s Corner has been one of the First Selectman’s priorities since coming into office. Â He is funding the work at Brown’s Corner with funds that had previously been allocated elsewhere, as follows:
- The Rec Department’s $50,000 Capital funds have been reallocated to Brown’s Corner. Â Rec had previously earmarked those funds to several small projects in the town’s parks, including the replacement of the lights at Callahan Park to make it more user-friendly. Â The funds will be used to pay for fencing and other enhancements to the ball park.
- The $35,000 allocated to the Brodie House to fund whatever was ultimately going to be done with the house has been reallocated to the work at Brown’s Corner. Â The Brodie House line item has been eliminated from the Town Government proposed budget, leaving the problems associated with that town property and the lack of a rental arrangement still in limbo.
And The Largest Percentage Increase Of All…
A 5,000% increase goes to the Town Hill Cemetery line item. Â Although the Town Hill Cemetery line item shows a 0% increase in the proposed budget, the cemetery is actually shown as receiving $5,000 of reallocated funds on the Reallocated Funds page. Â This $5,000, Dan explained, will go to refurbish the Town Hill Church bell at the top of the hill, thus preserving one of the town’s historic treasures.
Capital Debt Service Discussion
The selectmen engaged in an animated discussion at the end of the meeting on whether the Town Government budget was being made to appear higher than it really was by having the Capital debt service for the schools and the Town Hall included in their budget. Â The three selectmen agreed that the Capital debt service should be shown separately from Town Government operations. Â They will likely broach this subject with the Board of Finance members.