This Saturday, March 2, the Board of Selectmen (BOS) and the Board of Education will present the municipal and education budgets for the 2019-2020 fiscal year to the Board of Finance (BOF). The Board of Finance will then, over the following month, hold weekly meetings to discuss, ask questions, make adjustments and ultimately approve a budget to send to the taxpayers for approval. The BOS budget is the Municipal budget – the budget that specifies how town revenues will be expended to provide services to residents, and it accounts for approximately 25% of the total Town Budget. Today’s column focuses on how the BOS developed the municipal budget, and will touch on some of the proposed expenditures in the budget.
The municipal budget determines how the town distributes tax dollars to fund the services provided to residents. Services such as the police department, fire department, emergency response, road repair and paving, maintenance of town buildings and parks, social services, senior center programs and the public library are funded by the municipal budget. The budget also provides funding for HART Transit, Animal Control and the Candlewood Lake Authority. The BOS compiles the budget based upon meetings with each department head. These knowledgeable employees use prior years’ experience, professional knowledge and upcoming projects to estimate funding required for their department in the next year. Each departmental budget is developed line by line, from a baseline of zero. This year, the BOS held 12 public budget workshops to gather this information, discuss the requests and make adjustments to the budget.
At the end of the process, the BOS voted to approve a municipal budget totaling $12,910,448 an increase of $784,007, or 6.47% over last year. As taxpayers, it is critical for us to understand why there is an increase in the budget, where tax revenue is being spent, and what services we want our town to provide. It is important to note, however, that although this increase contributes to an increase in the mil rate, a 6.47% increase in the municipal budget does not represent a 6.47% increase in taxes! Remember, the municipal budget is only 25% of the total budget.
School Safety, bridge and drainage repair, adequate long term planning and preventive maintenance are the priorities in next year’s municipal budget. At the recommendation of the School Safety and Security Committee, the Town budget contains funding for a permanent School Resource Officer position in the Middle School and an additional Dispatcher to monitor school security. These additions account for approximately 33% of the total budget increase over last year’s budget.
The proposed budget also includes funding to repair and rebuild bridges and drainage on Town roads. The State DOT bridge report has identified several bridges throughout New Fairfield that need extensive repair or replacement. Beginning in March of this year, for example, the Saw Mill Road Bridge will be completely replaced. The Town has accumulated funds to replace the bridge over several years however we must contribute an additional $280,000 to the project this year. Partial funding for future bridge repairs is also included in the budget as part of the Town’s Long Term Capital Plan. Bridge and Drainage repair and other capital improvements account for approximately 60% of the proposed budgetary increase.
We are also proposing to restore one position in the Public Works Department. Over the last 10 years, 4 positions have been eliminated from Public Works. As a result, it has become more difficult to schedule and complete critical Preventative Maintenance tasks, including routine roadside mowing to maintain adequate site lines and visibility, catch basin cleaning to prevent ponding and icing on Town roads and maintenance of aging drainage systems to prevent damage to roads and private property. Prioritizing Preventative Maintenance now improves safety and decreases the need for costly repairs in the future.
I have highlighted these proposals to emphasize the importance of your participation in the budget process. Please plan to attend or watch the Budget presentation beginning at 9:00 AM on Saturday, March 2. I also encourage you to attend the BOF meetings which will be held every Wednesday evening in March. Ask questions, provide input to our Board members. The municipal budget is YOUR budget – please participate!
– Pat Del Monaco, First Selectman