Last Wednesday evening, the Board of Finance finalized the municipal and education budgets and recommended the budget to a Town Meeting. The recommended budget includes Municipal expenditures totaling $13,883,770 and education expenditures totaling $43,300,654 for the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2018 and ending June 30, 2019. The total budget represents a 2.55% increase in the mil rate. The Annual Town Meeting will be warned for April 26 to set the date for machine vote in May.
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 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. These workshops were followed by weekly meetings with the BOF to review the proposed budget in detail.
At the end of the process, the BOF approved budget included an additional $220,000 for School Resource Officers, $500,000 for highway maintenance, $43,236 to ensure continuous EMT coverage. The BOS also budgeted $140,000 to replace an aging roadside mower, $22,500 to replace turn out gear for the Fire Department and $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 November, New Fairfield voters gave me the privilege and responsibility of serving as First Selectman. In that role, I have a unique perspective on municipal operations, as I manage the day to day business of the Town. I have spent the past four months becoming familiar with the functions and responsibilities of each municipal department, its staffing and funding. Most of our town departments operate very efficiently, meaning that they are adequately staffed and funded and provide the services that they are charged to provide at the lowest possible cost to taxpayers. However, there are some departments that are unable to operate efficiently due to chronic underfunding and understaffing. Therefore, the BOS added approximately $36,000 to the budget to address these needs. I have highlighted the most significant changes below.
The BOS created only one new full time position for next year’s budget, increasing hours to elevate the Senior Center Program Director to full time. By doing so, the Senior Center Director will be able to add programs specific to elderly health care such as Parkinson’s support, health screenings, pre-diabetes education and Alzheimer’s support among others. Residents over the age of 50 comprise approximately 41% of the population in New Fairfield, and this demographic is projected to grow throughout the 2020s. The Board also approved an Administrative Assistant to the Social Services Department totaling 10 hours per week. The Director currently does not have the opportunity to see all potential clients because she must complete administrative tasks in addition to providing services to residents in need. An Assistant will allow her to see as many as 10 more clients per week in addition to pursuing additional grants, providing additional programs to our residents, and attending training sessions on new state and federal social services programs.
In addition to these two positions, the BOS added 5 hours per week in the Land Use Department to support online permitting. The Town’s goal is to enable online permitting for Wetlands, Zoning and Building permits, streamlining the process for residents and business owners and requiring fewer trips to Town Hall. The Fire Department requested a Grant Writer to assist with obtaining grants to fund future equipment purchases for 125 hours per year. The Board also approved a part time accounting clerk as part of the departmental reorganization approved and initiated last year. Even though this position has been added, the reorganization has netted a savings of almost $15,000 per year.
The complete budget book is available to review in the Library, and will be published in the Town Tribune later this month.
– Pat Del Monaco, First Selectman