A presentation by Wes Marsh, Chair of the Board of Finance was the highlight of a short BOS meeting on December 8th. Mr. Marsh was there to present the BOF’s plan to increase the amount of the unassigned fund balance in the General Fund.
The town of New Fairfield’s General Fund is an amalgamation of many smaller funds. Most of that money is allocated to different parts of the budget. The money not allocated is part of the unassigned fund balance. That balance can be considered the town’s rainy day or emergency fund. Auditors have recommended the amount unassigned be equal to two months of operating expenses.
Considering the town’s combined budgets are approximately 54 million dollars, the appropriate amount for the fund would be almost $9 million. The fund currently stands at about 12% of the operating budget, or approximately $6.5 million. To reach that lofty goal, the BOF has recently passed a policy which will assign 100% of any revenue surplus and up to 50% of expense surplus to the unassigned fund balance.
Revenue surplus is the amount the town collects above their income projections. Expense surplus is the result of prudent spending when a line item ends below its projection for the year. Via this method, it might take up to 10 years to reach the suggested goal.
Both the BOS and BOF have worked hard over the last several years to foster a positive working relationship, so Mr. Marsh was hopeful the BOS would consider endorsing the policy. However, as this is something that will be administered expressly by the BOF, it is not necessary for them to gain the BOS’s approval. The BOS stopped just short of that endorsement.
Selectman Kim Hanson thought it important to note that this could result in double-charging the taxpayer because instead of something being purchased with a surplus, that item would have to be added to the budget for the coming year. Though this thought does have merit when advocating for frugal local government, it misses that there is importance in the presence of an unassigned fund balance and that it could benefit the taxpayer should the town fall into financial straits.
First Selectman Chapman also agreed that the end goal was important. However, she mentioned several potential changes to state policies as varied as healthcare and road repair that could seriously harm the financial situation of the town as a reason to stop short of endorsing the plan.
Mr. Marsh explained that he understood the comments, but reminded the BOS that these situations could be overcome by not cutting items from the budget. This might result in a higher budget, but would be a more realistic representation of the costs of maintaining the town. It would also allow the town to show unequivocally when state budget cuts were affecting local resources. The parties agree on the goal, but the path remains in doubt.
Mrs. Chapman took the opportunity of the meeting to thank Public Works and all the groups involved in the tree lighting and parade for a successful event. The town looks lovely decked out in its holiday sparkle. There was also a budget transfer from building repair in the amount of $8000 to replace the flooring in the community room.
Mr. Greg Moore spoke during public comment regarding a seemingly unused car and an oversight regarding the flag not being at half-staff on Pearl Harbor Day. Mrs. Chapman apologized for the mistake. Public comment at a BOS meeting is just that, a time to comment.
It can be confusing to those attending for the first time that questions are not answered and conversation does not take place between the BOS and the speaker. For an opportunity to converse with the Board, it is best to reach out to them prior to the meeting or to follow-up with them afterwards.
Mrs. Chapman noted that because of the flooring project in the Community Room, the next BOS meeting will probably be rescheduled. The meeting was adjourned just before 8pm.
By Jennifer Brakenwagen