2023-’24 Municipal Budget Proposes Fractional .05 Percent Spending Increase
Update: This report was updated at 1 pm on January 24 to add a clarification from the C.H.Booth Library Board of Trustees about a fund balance estimate.
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There is new spending in the proposed 2023-24 Board of Selectmen’s municipal budget, with an overall increase in proposed spending coming in at 5 hundredths of one percent. But that fractional increase is not necessarily reflected in the operational part of the budget — which increased by 4.39 percent.
According to a presentation by First Selectman Dan Rosenthal and Finance Director Bob Tait at the January 17 Board of Selectmen meeting, the proposed budget is $46,916,442, a .05 percent or $25,043 increase over the 2022-23 budget of $46,891,399. But as Tait explained following the presentation, there are several factors that are unique to this year’s spending plan to consider.
(Note that the First Selectman’s budget annually contains debt service on all community capital projects including all school district projects.)
“There are no surprises here, obviously there were challenges with inflation but I think we navigated it pretty well,” said Rosenthal, who noted that he wants to be “transparent in what the demands are, what the spending is, and not hide behind the bottom line.”
The primary drivers in the budget were increases in wages, a 1.26 percent or $171,000 increase Tait said was offset by eliminating 1.5 vacant positions along with new requests; a 5.68 percent or $366,000 increase in employee benefits — largely driven by a 6 percent increase in contribution to the town’s medical self-insurance; a 7.2 percent or $577,000 increase in contractual services for recycling; the last $250,000 increase for capital roads projects, meaning the town is no longer borrowing to pave; and a 1.96 percent or $188,000 increase in debt service, as illustrated in the recently approved Capital Improvement Plan.
Additionally, there was a $1,699,000 reduction to the transfer out Capital & Non-Recurring (CNR) budgeted line item. The town has a cap on the maximum amount of fund balance it can carry and maintains that cap by transfers into the CNR fund, which is used to pay primarily for capital projects and acquisitions.
Pressures = Reductions
Prior to the first selectman’s review, requests from department heads represented a 2.8 percent budget increase, so Rosenthal and Tait reduced those requests by a total of $1,301,205.
Those reductions involved moving $551,000 in capital projects from the normal operating budget to the capital recurring fund; making $289,000 in cuts to requested new positions, including two new police officers, one new emergency communications position, and one fire administration position; and reducing $55,000 in contractual services due to capital acquisition and resulting savings.
Rosenthal said he was “not allowing” extra positions because of “budget pressures.”
Another $141,000 in added savings was achieved by eliminating two positions that were currently vacant; and eliminating $66,000 for two vehicle replacements, which will instead be met by transferring vehicles the town already has to the requesting departments.
“I felt like we were juggling a bunch of things, like pensions, the last payment on roads, and inflationary drivers,” said Rosenthal. “It pushed the budget to the point I’m not interested in further pushing. It’s not that the requested positions aren’t worthy, this is just not the year for it.”
The selectmen discussed outside agencies and their fund balances, which has been an issue before the Legislative Council and the Board of Finance over the past year.
Rosenthal noted that the lake authorities’ requests in the proposed budget reflect a $19,000 increase, but that is because the increases are shown against last year’s adopted budget, and the town’s government bodies voted to restore a cut to their requests late last year. The actual increase is closer to $8,000 over the previous year’s request, when considering the transfer.
Library Allocation Discussed
The CH Booth Library’s fund balance is likely to be a topic of discussion before not only the selectmen but the finance board and council in the coming months. Rosenthal said in talks with the library, its trustees do not plan to carry such a large balance in the future.
Library Board of Trustees Treasurer Greg Branecky subsequently contacted The Newtown Bee to clarify that $1.4 million is the approximate amount of the town’s 2022-23 budget allocation to the library.
"The library’s fund/cash balance is currently about $190,000 as of December 2022, with an additional $300,000 already committed to renovation and update projects," Branecky said in a January 23 correspondence.
Total contributions to outside agencies including the library for this year will increase $79,461, or 3.2 percent. This increase is mainly due to the library and health district.
Rosenthal said two years ago, the town cut the library budget by $15,000, and last year the library’s budget was maintained at that reduced amount. He said continuing to cut the library or keeping it flat would “increase the delta between town support and where their budget is,” likely forcing the library to start asking for larger and larger increases.
“If we let that margin grow too much, their budget ask will become enormous,” said Rosenthal.
Selectmen were scheduled to meet with the police chief, public works director, and fire company representatives to discuss their budgets on January 19, after The Newtown Bee’s current print edition went to press.
On Monday, January 23, they are expected to talk with the parks & recreation director, and they are trying to arrange times to talk to the library and Edmond Town Hall representatives. Once selectmen complete their reviews of each department, they are expected to propose any changes, deliberate, and then approve a potentially revised spending plan to the finance board.
The Board of Education also presented its budget request the same evening (see separate story), but the full tax implications and mill rate increase on the proposed combined budgets will likely not be known until analyses and recommendations are presented by the Board of Finance.
Look for continued municipal and school budget updates at newtownbee.com, and in upcoming print editions of The Newtown Bee.
Associate Editor Jim Taylor can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.