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Selectmen Review Police, Public Works Budget Requests



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Having already acknowledged that there are few areas in the proposed 2016-17 municipal budget with much room for reductions, let alone additions, the Board of Selectmen minus the absent Will Rodgers sat down to review the Police and Public Works Department budgets during a special meeting January 25.Vehicle Replacement ReviewPublic Works Presentation

Selectmen are considering a 2016-17 municipal budget requesting $41,190,942 - a $1.05 million or 2.6 percent increase. According to First Selectman Pat Llodra, salary and benefit hikes are driving a $991,906 increase.

Contractual increases of between 1.9 and 2.0 percent represent about $227,000 in spending, with an added police contract step totaling $64,000. Several other departments are adding staff, and a number of non-contract town staffers are also receiving nominal pay increases.

In addition, a ten percent increase to the town's self-insured medical benefits fund will require an added $289,000 next year, driven primarily by medical claims experience. Finance Director Robert Tait said that marked increase followed five years during which the average insurance cost increase averaged just two percent.

In addition, Mr Tait explained, new mortality rates being factored into the town's pension plan are demanding an increase of 20 percent in that budget line, totaling $193,000. Contributions to the police pension in next year's budget, which includes all sworn officers and other department personnel, amounts to $110,703 of that total.

The total police department 2016-17 request equals $6,771,639 - a $366,303 or 5.7 percent increase.

During the selectmen's presentation, Captain Joe Rios reaffirmed that the pension contribution increase in his department's line was unforeseen until new mortality tables were delivered to the town in recent weeks.

The January 25 presentation also included input from Police Commission Chairman Joel Faxon and Commissioner Brian Budd, along with Newtown Chief James Viadero, who was welcomed to his first budget session since being sworn in January 6.

The police officials said that the only other notable increase in their budget request is $12,500 for training and supplies for the local contingent of Emergency Services Unit or SWAT team. Newtown is among communities training and equipping officers for a regional response squad headquartered in Danbury.

Chief Viadero said since this is Newtown's first year participating in the regional initiative, related expenses are higher, and he is anticipating that budget line will be reduced in future years.

Selectmen also engaged the police representatives in a perennial review of the town's vehicle replacement program, and learned the now three-year-old system of budgeting to replace three police vehicles in every budget is working well.

Chief Viadero said the department maintains ten "front line" police vehicles for daily officer use - several SUVs and several sedan cruisers - most of which run on 24-hour cycles justifying their replacement when they hit or approach 100,000 miles of use.

He said the department has been able to mitigate the increasing expense of maintenance, especially as vehicles reach the 75,000- to 100,000-mile mark, by obtaining extended warrantees that cover each vehicle up to 100,000 miles. He said the three vehicles purchased and ordered from the current budget will be arriving any day and will create the turnover of three of the oldest, high mileage cruisers.

While the trade-in value of those units is only about $1,000 because of their extreme heavy usage, the chief said at least one is in good enough condition to be relegated to further use as an "administrative" vehicle. Since Newtown uses a state purchasing program, which fixes vehicle unit costs and makes purchases in large quantities, the costs for the three vehicles proposed for 2016 are just $500 more than the current year.

"The local replacement program is a prudent way to go," said Mr Faxon, who noted that New Haven taxpayers faced a significant burden recently when that department was forced to replace a large number of cruisers that had far exceeded their safe usage life.

Mr Faxon told selectmen that because New Haven tried to extend the lives of those vehicles beyond recommended usage, it generated "several hundred thousand dollars," in unplanned expenses.

As the police group traded places with Public Works Director Fred Hurley, he remarked that thanks to the vehicle replacement system, his motor pool technicians only had to perform one unanticipated transmission replacement that was not covered under warranty.

Moving on to the highway and public works budget, Mr Hurley began his presentation noting that some reductions may still be offered before the budget request goes before the Legislative Council for final deliberations ahead of an April 26 public referendum.

He is anticipating some reduction in fuel oil and diesel fuel, all which go out to annual bid in the coming weeks. Mr Hurley said a local solar generation project is also expected to trigger further electricity savings.

Mrs Llodra pointed out that the town's current bulk contract cost for gasoline is $2.33 per gallon, and Mr Hurley countered that the rate was locked in and differs from other fuel commodities because the gasoline contract runs on a calendar year, verses a fiscal year schedule.

He added that the $2.33 per gallon gas contract resulted from a previous "blending" proposal which helped save some added money in the current fiscal cycle.

"We blended a previous rate to get a lower price last year," he said. "Now we have to carry that [contract] through December."

During the discussion, Finance Director Robert Tait reminded the selectmen that the Public Works Department's contingency fund has been reduced, so officials should not look to that line item for any measurable reductions.

As the discussion of the Public Works' budget request was winding down, Selectman Herb Rosenthal mentioned how the town was working to restore an annual $2 million budget line for capital roads projects.

"Because of the condition of the roads, I just think it's not enough to get the roads back to even close to where they ought to be," he said. Acknowledging the challenge each year to get budgets passed, Mr Rosenthal nonetheless said with such low interest rates available on bonding, it might make sense to borrow more money to bring town roads "up to speed."

"I don't know how much we can spend in a given year," Mr Rosenthal said.

Mr Hurley countered that fixing everything at the same time means a future big ticket cost to fix that glut of roads that will inevitably require replacement or repairs around the same time.

"Could we spend more money, yes we could," Mr Hurley said. But he added that with a huge push by the state for road projects, the money could be there, but a shortage of vendors for asphalt and contract services may not be there.

"There are some market constraints that could be a problem," Mr Hurley said.

Mrs Llodra said that the annual budget could grow beyond the $2 million mark that could be reached in 2017, to as much as $2.5 million or $2.7 million in future years.

Prior to voting to move several budget lines, Mr Rosenthal stated that his son is a member of the police commission, but was not elected before much of the department's budget was formulated. Selectman Rosenthal further stated that his son's newly elected post did not influence his decision to support the department's budget request.

Then the selectmen moved and approved the budget requests for the Police Department and Public Works Department.

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