The Board of Finance brought the increase for the proposed 2020-2021 fiscal year municipal and education budgets down to 0.99% at its virtual meeting on May 13. Initially, the total increase as originally proposed by the Boards of Education and Selectmen was 4.79%. A round of cuts had brought the increase down to 2.94%.
Board Chair Wes Marsh gave a rundown of the latest public correspondence regarding the proposed budgets. Board Alternate Brian Shea noted that to date the Board had received 23 letters or emails from the public on the budget and that 14 indicated a desire for a flat budget with no increase and 9 that were against any further cuts in the education budget.
Tom Kowalchik of USI spoke about the medical insurance claims budget. He said that the weekly insurance claims continued to trend downwards. He estimated that the medical reserve fund balance would wind up between $2 million to $2.2 million by the end of the fiscal year.
He said his recommendation would be to increase the insurance claims budget $200,000 to $6.2 million, but he did acknowledge the Board could decide to save that increase and remain flat at $6 million as long as it realized that a spike in claims would eat into the Town’s medical reserve fund. He said he would come back to the next meeting with a chart of more finalized options for stop loss and drug rebates and that he would try to negotiate an additional $200,000 decrease from Anthem on those fixed costs. That, he said, would reduce the need to increase the insurance claims reserve up from $6 million.
The Board then turned its attention to the mark up of the proposed budgets. Board Member Anthony Yorio outlined a strategy to cut the education and municipal budgets down to an overall 0.99% increase, He did this by incorporating the first round of cuts that had been requested previously, and an adjustment to the second round of requested cuts. He noted that in crafting his proposal he tried to take into account discussions that had been held between the BOE and BOS over the last several BOF meetings, public comment and feedback received, as well as comments made by BOF members. He said, “If everybody doesn’t like it entirely, but is able to live with it, we probably reached the right place.”
For the education budget, the first round of cuts had totaled $437,600. He pointed out that $375,000 of that total was for a capital improvement project and not from operations. The second request made by the Board of Finance had been an additional $375,000 in cuts. Mr. Yorio noted that this round of cuts did include deeper operational reductions including some staffing levels.
Mr. Yorio’s scenario included keeping the initial $437,600 in cuts. He adjusted the second round of cuts downward to from $375,000 to $304,350, saving a little over $70,000 worth of funds for education staffing.
On the town side of the budget, he noted that the first round of requested cuts totaled $384,400. most of that, $300,00 Mr. Yorio said, was from Cap & Nonrecurring. The remainder was from operating expenditures. He noted that the BOS would be looking to have some capital items restored through any surplus from the 2019-20 fiscal year.
In the second round of cuts, Mr. Yorio proposed using the unassigned fund balance to fund $387,500 in bridge and infrastructure projects that are high safety priorities. This would take them out of the budget and get them completed in the coming year. His proposal also included using $328,750 in anticipated revenue and expense surplus to fund additional capital projects that had been cut.
In all, under his plan, Mr. Yorio said that the total dollar budget increase from one year to the next would be $499,421.
After further discussion, the Board voted to reduce the municipal budget by $980,100 and the education budget by 643,879. The Board then voted to recommend a municipal budget of $12,276,720 and an education budget of $43,709,084. the total percentage increase of the combined budgets is 0.99%.
An overview of the Board of Education’s Recommended Budget can be found by going to www.newfairfield.org and clicking “About New Fairfield” then “New Fairfield Public Schools” and scrolling down to “2020-2021 Proposed Budget”.
The Board of Selectman budget can be found at www.newfairfield.org and clicking “Municipal Budget”.
Public input at meetings is encouraged to give New Fairfield’s Boards as much feedback as possible on the proposed budgets.
The Board of Finance will be holding budget meetings every Wednesday in April & May at 7:30pm at https://us04web.zoom.us/j/237333101 the meeting call in number is 1-929-205-6099.
By Greg Slomba