At a Town Meeting prior to the February 14 BOS meeting, residents voted to approve the transfer of $140.387.83 from the 2017-18 town budget surplus to Fire Co. Reserve ($24,912.69), Public Works Trucks & Equipment ($60,000), and Boat Dock Replacement Lock Box ($55,475.14). Funds moved to the Public Works line item will be used to replace a truck that is no longer fit for service. Part of the funds moved to the lock box fund will be used to pay for the engineering evaluation recently completed on the current docks at the Town Marina, and the design of replacement docks.
At the Board of Selectmen meeting that immediately followed, the BOS discussed its town (municipal) budget proposal and voted to send it to the Board of Finance for review. The BOS held 12 budget workshops over the past couple of months, meeting with all town department heads for input on their budget needs. Services that make up the municipal budget include road maintenance and plowing, senior services, police, fire & EMS, land use, events and activities, and the library.
The BOS is proposing a municipal budget of $12,126,441, an increase of $784,007, or 6.47% from the previous year. In her review of the proposal, First Selectman Pat Del Monaco noted school safety, capital and non-recurring costs, and Public Works staffing as needs contributing to the increase.
School safety accounts for $253,878 or 32% of the overall increase. In her budget breakdown, Ms. Del Monaco stated the need for $180,772 for an additional full time School Resource Police Officer. The amount would cover salary, benefits, training and a vehicle for the officer. Currently, the Town is filling this position through additional police officer overtime. An additional $73,106 would be used to cover the salary and benefits of a dispatcher. These positions were recommended by the School Safety and Security Committee as the result of a safety audit conducted last year.
The increase to Capital and Non-Recurring expenses is due primarily to bridge and drainage projects that need to be addressed. This accounts for $412,250 or 52% of the proposed budget increase. Projects named included the Saw Mill bridge project ($280,000), Senior Center Route 37 beacon ($32,250) and bridge inspections ($20,000) among others.
As for Public Works, Ms. Del Monaco stated that over the past 9 years, Public Works staffing has decreased from 16 employees to 12. This, she said, has made it difficult for the department to keep up with the multiple projects and preventative maintenance around town. The proposed budget includes a new “driver/operator/maintainer” at $56,110 to allow the Town to better maintain and repair its properties and infrastructure.
In the ensuing discussion, Selectman Kim Hanson objected to the budget increase, stating that this would mark the second year of large budget increases, which would put the Town in an “untenable” situation.
Selectman Khris Hall disagreed, stating that in the past, budgets had been kept “artificially low” and that basic services to citizens had not been properly addressed, leading to the need to “build back what was taken away.”
Ms. Del Monaco said that she felt this was a responsible budget, saying that it puts money back into line items that were reduced under previous administrations.
Mr. Hanson voiced his concern that changes to the State budget could adversely affect the Town’s budget.
Ms. Hall stated that indications are that the governor’s budget will maintain most municipal funding levels.
Ms. Del Monaco stated that if the Town does not get caught up on maintenance, it will cost more down the line.
In the end, the Board voted to approve the proposed budget by a 2 to 1 vote, with Mr. Hanson voting against. The proposal will be presented to the Board of Finance along with the proposed Board of Education budget at a special budget hearing to be held Saturday, March 2.
The Board also discussed its response to First Light’s Candlewood Lake shoreline management plan proposal. The last plan was approved in March 2013 for six years and is currently up for review and renewal.
The Board drafted a list of concerns regarding FirstLight’s plan. Ms. Del Monaco noted concern that the plan does not make research data compiled by FirstLight available to the public, the Candlewood Lake Authority (CLA), or the towns bordering the lake. She noted that such information would help the towns better manage the health of the lake.
The Board also noted it appeared that the imposition of fees and the amounts of fees could be applied or changed without notice by FirstLight.
Ms. Del Monaco stated that the response to FirstLight’s proposal had been drawn up after a special meeting of the BOS and the three New Fairfield delegates to the CLA.
The Board voted to approve the response, with some changes, unanimously.
The next regular meeting of the Board of Selectmen is scheduled for Thursday, February 28 at 7:30pm.
By Greg Slomba