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On Monday, January 29, the Board of Selectmen moved ever closer to finalizing its 2018-19 municipal budget recommendation, which includes all debt service costs for current bonding for capital expenses including school district projects. First Selectman Dan Rosenthal said he expects the board to complete the proposed budget recommendation at its regular meeting on Monday, February 5, before sending it on to the Board of Finance for recommendations.
The finance board will hold a public hearing and review both the municipal and school district proposals before moving the combined budget to the Legislative Council for review and action. Once approved by the council, the two budget requests then go to voters for approval in a Tuesday, April 24, referendum.
The proposed municipal budget for next year currently stands at $41,092,967, representing an increase of 2.5 percent or $1,007,000 more than the current year. During initial discussion, Mr Rosenthal said his goal was to provide taxpayers with the “same services” as the current year. As presented, the Superintendent’s Requested Operational Budget Plan is $75,990,687, or a 2.22 percent increase over the current fiscal year.
The Board of Education held a public hearing on the spending plan on January 30, and plan to complete and submit a final recommendation to the finance board following a meeting Thursday, February 1, after The Newtown Bee’s print edition goes to press.
Patrick Reilly, chairman of the Board of Fire Commissioners, said his panel met in December and was able to reduced several initial requests to help contain costs. The first selectman on behalf of the commission has requested a budget of $1,356,752 for all fire service expenses, a $24,173 or 1.8 percent increase over the current year.
Mr Reilly, a civilian member of the board, said local department chiefs were concerned about the selectmen making specific line item directives. He conveyed the chiefs’ request for the selectmen to submit any additional monetary amount they might want to see reduced so the commissioners could handle that given various life safety priorities.
Replacing outdated turnout gear, the protective clothing and accessories worn by firefighters on calls, was one of those priorities, Mr Reilly said.
Saving For Expenses
During the discussion, Town Finance Director Robert Tait explained that for the first time, instead of replacing certain capital items as part of the operating budget, he was planning to use any current year budget surplus to acquire new or replacement safety gear and air packs. That would make up for a $15,000 reduction to the commissioners’ request by the first selectman prior to his final recommendation.
Mr Tait added that beginning with a planned $25,000 contribution to the capital nonrecurring account for in 2018-19, his goal would be to eventually build a $125,000 balance that could be tapped if needed specifically for major fire service purchases.
Mr Reilly also took the opportunity to remind selectmen that in 2019, his commissioners were planning to request a fire tanker truck replacement, which would be stationed at the Sandy Hook Fire & Rescue main headquarters on Riverside Road.
The fire commission chairman also expressed his concern that dwindling volunteer ranks could eventually force the town to have to resort to a paid fire department. He said while the current active member ranks are holding at around 100, having closer to twice that number would be ideal for the size of the community.
Edmond Town Hall Operations Manager Sheila Torres, and Town Hall Board of Managers Chair Margot Hall were next to appear before selectmen. Mr Rosenthal, on their behalf, has requested a 2018-19 operating budget of $191,895 or a 5.8 percent increase over the current year.
Ms Torres began her brief presentation saying that town hall personnel changes required the managers to hire new personnel at “market rate” pay, along with shouldering the expense of new unemployment claims. She also said the operation continues to struggle with declining lease revenue because restrictions imposed by the Borough of Newtown significantly limit the types of tenants they can accept.
She said while net lease and rental revenue is steady or slightly increasing, some areas of the facility have reached capacity. In addition, some stored and stockpiled heating oil the board had been using in past years has run out, so the town hall now has the expense of regular deliveries to cover.
Mr Rosenthal said the town recently offered put the Edmond Town Hall budget on the town’s accounting system. He said if that came to fruition, it could help regulate any seasonal flux in revenues and expenditures, eliminating any concern about maintaining operating balances or concerns about funds not being there to meet immediate expenses.
Hawley Society Query
Selectman Maureen Crick Owen asked if there were any plan to bring back an active Mary Hawley Society, which previously provided fundraising support. Manager Anna Wiedemann, who was in the audience, said the two or three remaining members could not possibly handle the work that was previously done by a larger group of volunteers.
She added that recruiting to reactivate the group would be part of a developing and updated strategic plan for the facility.
Ms Torres said that in the coming months she was hoping to find enough funds to expand existing security monitoring for the town hall’s night manager, and Mr Rosenthal said he would check with the town IT department to see if any support or hardware could be developed internally.
Booth Library Board Chairman Bob Geckle and board member Amy Dent were next to speak to selectmen. On behalf of the board, Mr Rosenthal requested a 2018-19 budget of $1352,249 — a 1.2 percent bump from the current year.
Mr Geckle explained that most of the increase he requested was to cover increases in wages and salaries, including $90,000 to compensate a new library director. He said based on calculations, the library provided about $4.6 million worth of services to the community in 2017, up about $50,000 from the previous year.
He added that any further reductions to the operating budget request next year would impact services, acquisitions, and personnel.
Upon the completion of the presentations, selectmen decided to begin moving and approving various department budget lines.
Ms Crick Owen began with the Public Safety request, moving the request of $10,388,215, which was unanimously approved. That was followed by a unanimous endorsement of $10,378,693 for Public Works; the Board of Managers request of $151,895; the Health & Welfare budget request of $1,584,499; and the Planning Department request of $825,853.
The selectmen then unanimously approved recommendations of $1,352,249 for the library; $2,500 for the Cultural Arts Commission; $1,400 for the Labor Day Parade Committee; and moved to request a $217,000 allocation for the Capital and Nonrecurring account.