Selectmen Progressing Through Department Budget Reviews
The Board of Selectmen continued working through public reviews of select department budget requests ahead of a planned vote Monday, February 3, endorsing a proposed municipal spending plan for the 2020-2021 fiscal year. The selectmen’s budget request includes all debt service on capital borrowing, including for projects of the Board of Education.
At press time January 30, the selectmen had heard from representatives of the Board of Fire Commissioners, the Department of Public Works, the C.H. Booth Library, and the Parks & Recreation department.
The proposed 2020-21 municipal spending plan that was unveiled to local selectmen January 21 by First Selectman Dan Rosenthal and Town Finance Director Robert Tait requests just under a 2.5 percent increase. The proposed budget totals $43,211,959 — up $1,032,456 from the adopted 2019-20 bottom line of $42,179,503.
Discussions commenced January 23 with the Board of Fire Commissioners. That panel, which oversees and holds seats for representatives of each of the communities’ independent nonprofit volunteer companies, was allocated $1,432,150, an overall increase of $34,803 or 2.49 percent.
Some of the largest drivers of the fire commissioners’ increase include a 30.08 percent increase ($15,700) to cover insurance rate premiums on buildings, personnel, and equipment; an 11.52 percent increase ($6,210) for replacement or new equipment; a 19.08 percent bump ($15,000) for fire hydrant maintenance and replacements; and a total of $8,739 in salaries/wages/benefits — mainly due to increases in the length of service awards program (LOSAP), a small pension-like benefit.
According to documentation provided during the review, this program helps attract and retain quality volunteer emergency service personnel, and counters a need for the town to move to very costly paid fire services. Other key items in the fire commissioners’ request are costs to replace 30 pieces of turnout gear ($75,000); 30 helmets ($10,500); and 30 sets of boots ($13,500).
Among the high points of the Public Works discussion was the revelation that to date, combined energy saving initiatives overseen by Public Works have reduced Newtown’s carbon footprint by about 50 percent. Some of the unknowns as police personnel shift from Town Hall South to a new headquarters — anticipated in October 2020 — were also discussed, along with corresponding budget line increases based on projections.
Under the DPW, the highway budget allocation is up 4.14 percent or $318,812 — mostly driven by contracted salary increases ($81,682); increasing cost of gasoline fuel ($22,186); and the $250,000 included to offset bonding for road improvements. On that subject, Public Works Director Fred Hurley told selectmen that almost all the roads slated for resurfacing or improvements in the fall are complete, and a couple of drainage projects that were moved to the spring will likely be completed in-house.
On a positive note, the winter maintenance request is down by $37,296, and the transfer station request is down $8,303. Public building maintenance, factoring the police department transition, is up 19.8 percent ($141,348).
Library And Parks
Library Director Doug Lord appeared with selectmen during the second budget review on January 27, along with Library Board Chair Amy Dent and retiring board member William McCarthy. During the discussion, the first selectman’s allocation of $1,422,964 — a $40,849 or 2.96 percent bump — was requested to be increased by Mr Lord to help offset occupancy maintenance, books, equipment, and salaries.
Ms Dent discussed the fact that fundraising, both by the board and the Friends organization, is down, and that open positions on the board remain unfilled. She was further concerned because several board members who recently left for various reasons were energetic fundraisers or supported fundraising efforts.
She also mentioned that a boiler replacement would be done with supplemental underwriting through an Eversource energy saving program.
Parks & Rec Director Amy Mangold appeared before selectmen with Parks Commission Chairman Ed Marks and Asst Director of Parks Carl Samuelson. It was noted that the department’s capital request of $152,125 was reduced by the first selectman to $78,375. The overall allocation for the department is proposed at $2,521,895, a $19,286 or 0.77 percent increase.
Mr Rosenthal said the request involved a new commercial mower and replacement pickup trucks. He observed that the department paid more than $110,000 for a top-of-the-line Toro mower five years ago, and were ready to trade it in as it came off its five-year warranty.
The first selectman suggested keeping this type of high-capacity equipment in use much longer to reduce the cost per hour to operate it. He said after Bridgeport purchases some of Newtown’s former Parks equipment, they continue to use it much longer.
“I want to keep employees employed,” Mr Rosenthal said. “I can’t sell a mower to fill a budget hole.”
For that reason, the first selectman said he reduced the capital line and returned some funds to the contractual services line. Mr Samuelson countered that there is no backup for that mower, which cuts up to 100 acres a week.
“So we repeatedly have gotten rid of the machine while it still has residual value,” he said, adding that the plan is to acquire a new replacement and a separate tow-behind mower. That will provide a replacement and a second unit to utilize during the heaviest mowing season while reducing the amount of overall use on the new commercial Toro.
Regarding the proposed acquisitions of Ford F550 versus F350 pickup trucks, Mr Samuelson advises that the town “buy things that are going to last.” He said the 350s will not last 15 years, which is the expectation since the average mileage for those vehicles is about 12,000 annually.
The major increases allocated for the Parks & Rec Department are $26,189 or a 12.21 percent bump to the seasonal wages line; $31,740 or 11.33 percent in contractual services; and $6,929 or 0.70 percent on the full-time salary and wage line.
The municipal IT department, police department, and Edmond Town Hall Board of Managers were slated to meet with selectmen on Thursday, January 30, after this edition of The Newtown Bee went to press — see any updates on that session in the February 7 edition.