At one point late in the Board of Selectmen’s 2014-15 budget deliberations, Selectman James Gaston, Sr, observed, “You have to be disciplined when times are good and you have to be disciplined when times are bad.”
His comment came as he and fellow Selectman Will Rodgers along with First Selectman Pat Llodra prepared to move a municipal budget request to the Board of Finance representing a 0.3 percent overall increase above the current year.
Asking for a motion to approve the “bottom line” of $39,141,519, the proposal was passed unanimously representing a increase of $116,996, including all expenses or “debt service” for town and school capital project debt expenses.
The next step for the townside budget request is a finance board public hearing alongside the school district proposal February 20 at 7 pm in Newtown Municipal Center Council Chambers. The Board of Education was scheduled to complete its deliberations and pass its proposal to the finance board February 6 after the print edition of The Bee went to press.
Visit newtownbee.com for updates on the school district’s final budget decision.
Following the February 20 public hearing, the finance board will take up the first round of deliberations on the selectmen’s budget request.
Additional finance board deliberations continue February 24 with review of the school proposal; February 27 with a return to the selectmen’s request; another pass at the district budget proposal March 6; with possible final deliberations and adoption March 12. The Board of Finance also scheduled an extra date for additional deliberations and final action, if needed, on March 13.
Both proposals then move to the Legislative Council with an overall presentation March 19, with a council public hearing slated for March 26. Council deliberations begin and could conclude April 2 with a motion to send the final school and town requests to voters, although a second night for possible deliberation and action has been reserved for April 9 if needed.
The times and location of the council budget sessions have yet to be determined, and all proposed dates and times are subject to change, officials said. Voters will have the opportunity to consider the separate school and town proposals at referendum Tuesday, April 22.
Prior to the January 29 session, Mrs Llodra told The Bee that the 2014-15 budget plan attempts to retain most of the programs and services taxpayers received in the current year, but no new programs or services to be added or enhanced to any significant degree next year, in an attempt to keep the taxpayer burden to a minimum.
She echoed this sentiment to her fellow selectmen February when mentioning certain line items in the final proposal.
“We made some tough decisions,” Mrs Llodra said.
On January 29, several departments and town agencies sent representatives to review budget requests, including the Edmond Town Hall Board of Managers represented by Margot Hall; the Police Commission represented by Chairman Paul Mangiafico; the Public Works Department represented by Director Fred Hurley; the Economic Development Commission (EDC) represented by Don Sharpe; and the Booth Library Board represented by William McCarthy and Martha Robilotti.
EDC Requests $30,000
Discussion commenced with the EDC and Mr Sharpe requesting a previously undisclosed and significant budget increase to facilitate hiring additional consultants who would work primarily to attract more prospective business developments to the community.
Mr Sharpe noted that the EDC’s original request of $10,000 was halved prior to the proposal coming before the full Board of Selectmen, and he said that amount was requested so the EDC would have staffing to not only work on new commercial recruitment, but also on the retention of existing businesses in town.
Returning to his concern about the competition for limited commercial projects being posed by other towns in and outside of Connecticut, Mr Sharpe asked the selectmen to instead consider an increase of $30,000.
“It takes money to make money,” Mr Sharpe told selectmen. In the end, however, the selectmen supported the initial allocation determined by Mrs Llodra and Finance Director Robert Tait. Mr Rodgers expressed consternation over the significant, 11th-hour increase requested by Mr Sharpe that evening as he endorsed the EDC’s budget increase of $5,000.
Mr Mangiafico had little to say to the selectmen about specifics in the police department’s proposal, which increased by $102,851 or 1.71 percent. He did state that it was “a very difficult year for both the police department and police commission.”
The chairman said since 12/14 the department has been performing with the equivalent of five continuous absences, which he said bring “serious ramifications” that are taking a toll on remaining personnel.
He said the department also racked up “serious overtime” in the current budget related to post-12/14 police coverage, which Mr Mangiafico said is not reflected in the coming year’s request either. He said the police commission understood that extraneous post-12/14 overtime would end July 1 when the town shifts to a nonpatrol-based school security initiative.
He said it was the intent of the commission to try and bring in a flat budget, but a combination of almost $69,000 in added pension contributions and a $30,000 increase in health insurance costs stymied the effort.
Board Of Managers
Next up, the selectmen found themselves praising the Edmond Town Hall Board of Managers for its transparency in financial reporting, while trying to minimize the pain of a nearly $41,000 reduction to the trustees’ request to $99,719 or a 29.05 percent reduction. Mrs Llodra explained that the evident revenue being generated by town hall rentals and activities is nearly covering operational expenses, and the board of managers has a $300,000 capital account.
She and Mr Rodgers also explained that future major Edmond Town Hall capital projects are encompassed in a future townwide capital improvement schedule for bonding, which also weighs against included added capital project funding through the operations budget funded year-to-year by taxpayers.
“It’s not fair to ask taxpayers to carry any further burden than they need to,” Mrs Llodra said, adding that the vote to reduce the trustees request is “not a reflection of a lack of confidence, but a vote of confidence” in the managers’ efforts to balance its revenue and expenditures while creating a substantial capital fund for its own use.
“The fact that we’re cutting on the operational side is dwarfed by the fact that you’re in the CIP,” Mr Rodgers said.
Moving to the C.H. Booth Library Board, which initially requested a $60,000 increase, Mrs Llodra said the final budget hike of $29,938 or a 2.67 percent increase was tied to a hope that the library could offset its operational expenses by either increasing its revenue or reducing its hours and personnel to bring it in line with other libraries in neighboring communities.
Library officials said they knew they could save an additional $19,000 by closing Sundays year-round instead of just during the summer. Ms Robilotti also advocated for adding a part-time, nondegreed circulation coordinator, a position that has been vacant for eight years.
Mr Rodgers noted that the library’s budget documentation did not include comprehensive reporting of revenues from outside sources, including the Friends of the Library annual book sale, which he said were reflected in previous financial reports. He pointed to the Edmond Town Hall financials as an example of the kind of transparent documentation the selectmen should expect from the library board in the future.
This drew an apology from Mr McCarthy, the board’s treasurer, who indicated the failure to include all outside revenue had to be an oversight.
After a brief report on the Highway Department and a few moments of discussion, the selectmen decided to move and approve almost two dozen department lines that had no measurable changes from the current year. They completed that flurry of motions and approvals in the space of about ten minutes before adjourning.
Despite a snowy day that closed municipal offices early, selectmen met February 3 to conclude budget discussions that commenced January 29.
After approving the last of several items in a roughly 260-page municipal budget proposal, including sums for The Children’s Adventure Center at $143,071, animal control at $158,593, Newtown Under Water Search and Rescue (NUSAR) at $55,706, and the Fairfield Hills Authority at $22,044, First Selectman Pat Llodra glanced at fellow Selectmen James Gaston and Will Rodgers, saying, “I think we have a budget.”
Noting one area of significant change, Mrs Llodra indicated a considerable reduction in the Fairfield Hill Authority request, noting the authority’s $170,000 in a reserve fund, which last week she told the authority to use for expenses.