Last Wednesday, the Board of Finance made final changes to the 2019/2020 municipal and education budgets resulting in a final projected tax increase of 1.05%. This is the lowest mill rate increase in ten years, with the exception of the 2016/2017 budget when the Treasurer refinanced the Town’s debt. This is also the first year since 2009/2010 that the increase in taxes will be significantly below the Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA), which this year is set at 2.8%. Even with this conservative tax increase, the municipal budget improves services provided to Town residents. The Board of Selectmen has prioritized School Safety, EMT/ Paramedic Services, bridge and drainage repair and preventive maintenance in next year’s budget.
School Safety: At the recommendation of the School Safety and Security Committee, the Town budget contains funding for an additional permanent School Resource Officer position and an additional Dispatcher to monitor school security equipment. The three risk assessments conducted by a security consultant, our insurance company and the CT Department of Emergency Management and Homeland Security support and commend our decision to place SROs in all four of our schools. Further, the recent report of the Federal Commission on School Safety concludes “placement of specially trained personnel in schools is an effective tool in stopping acts of school violence.” Even though these positions support our schools, they are funded by the municipal budget because public safety is the responsibility of the Selectmen, with the First Selectman serving as the Administrative Chief of Police. As such, the Town must maintain fiscal and managerial control over all public safety functions. This has no impact on the taxpayer’s bottom line! The tax increase attributable to School Safety remains the same, regardless of whether the education or town budget bears the cost. These additions account for approximately 31% of the total municipal budget increase over last year’s budget.
24/7 Paramedic/EMT Coverage: The municipal budget also includes an additional contract with Danbury Hospital for EMT and Paramedic services necessary to ensure 24/7 emergency medical coverage in New Fairfield. The number of volunteer EMTs has decreased in recent years, and this contract is necessary to guarantee continuous emergency medical coverage in the next year. This addition accounts for 36% of the municipal budget increase.
Public Works: The municipal budget also restores one position in the Public Works Department. Over the last 10 years, 4 positions have been eliminated from Public Works and Buildings and Grounds. 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, maintenance of aging drainage systems to prevent damage to roads and private property and routine maintenance of Town buildings and parks. Prioritizing Preventative Maintenance now improves safety and decreases the need for costly repairs in the future. This addition accounts for 14% of the municipal budget increase.
The balance of the budget increase supports other services provided by the town, including the police department, fire department, bridge and road repair and paving, social services, senior center programs and the public library. The BOS compiled the budget based upon meetings with each department head. These knowledgeable employees used 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.
In the coming weeks, the BOS will be holding public Q&A sessions around town to answer any questions you may have about the budget. I will post information on these sessions on the Town website, Facebook page and here in my column in the Town Tribune. You may also stop by Town Hall or contact me by phone at 203-312-5600 or by e-mail at email@example.com with any questions.
– Pat Del Monaco, First Selectman