On Saturday, The Board of Selectmen (BOS) and the Board of Education will present the municipal and education budgets for the 2018-2019 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 21% 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, the Candlewood Lake Authority, Animal Control and Animal Welfare. 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. 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 $11,933,018, an increase of $1,021,672, or 9.36% over last year. This is a larger year-to-year increase than any of us are used to seeing. 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 9.36% increase in the municipal budget does not represent a 9.36% increase in taxes! Remember, the municipal budget is only 21% of the total budget.
In any other year, this budget, with the same expenditures, would represent a 4.78% increase over the previous year. Historically, the municipal budget includes, on average, $500,000 for road paving and repair. However, last year, the BOS was forced to remove all funding from this line due to the uncertainty in the state budget. Because the road repair and paving line was reduced to zero, restoring $500,000 to fund our town roads results in a 4.58% increase in the budget, before we even consider any other expenditures. New Fairfield is also faced with a declining number of EMT volunteers, and as a result must increase contracted services with Danbury Hospital to provide 24/7 ambulance coverage, totaling $43,236, an increase of about a half a percent over last year. We have also budgeted $140,000 to replace an aging roadside mower and $22,500 to replace turn out gear for the Fire Department. The BOS also provided $180,000 for repair of bridges on town roads. These are highlights of a few of the larger expenditures that are necessary to continue providing services that residents need and expect from their town. In addition to expenditures, the budget also reflects further anticipated reductions in state funding totaling about $168,000.
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 3. 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