Year-End Surplus Will Fortify Capital Fund, Underwrite AV Improvements
At its regular meeting August 17, the Board of Selectman voted unanimously to utilize $603,000 in surplus 2019-20 budget funds to offset bonding expenses by fortifying the town’s capital nonrecurring fund, along with completing necessary Sandy Hook streetscape work, and replacing furniture along with audio/visual hardware in the municipal center council chambers.
The authorization came after a brief presentation by Finance Director Robert Tait, during which he introduced a raft of small interdepartmental transfers that tapped assumed surpluses in certain department budget lines, and used them to offset assumed deficits in others. Those transfer actions ranged from $8,000 in the Parks & Rec account to cover added costs for lifeguards and gate attendants to $65,000 in the Public Works budget to cover wages, contractual services, and a shortfall of $21,000 for gasoline used for municipal motor pool vehicles.
During the meeting, Tait explained that the $603,000 would be placed in a “transfer out” budget line that would supplement the capital nonrecurring account instead of those funds reverting to the municipal fund balance. The need to allocate those funds for capital spending and to offset bonding is necessary because the fund balance has reached, and currently slightly exceeds its 12 percent cap as set forth in the fund balance policy.
A $13,000 allocation is going to complete the surface sealing of brick or stone pavers that was originally part of a Sandy Hook streetscape project. The longer that sealing was delayed, the greater the deterioration to the materials, Tait said.
Regarding the now-antiquated audio/visual system, First Selectman Dan Rosenthal said he was glad leading boards and meetings could be streamed live via the town website, but noted the sound and image quality of those webcasts was “not ideal,” and often “painful to watch.”
The first selectman said he has already asked the town’s purchasing agent to spec out new technology and replace some of the chairs used at the main meeting table. Some of those high-back office chairs that are still functional will be relegated to secondary use in other offices.
Rosenthal said he wants to see a new Bluetooth microphone system with wireless capabilities that would not be tethered and limited, and which could be automated. The plan includes upgrading the overhead projection unit, which currently also requires wired connectivity and adapters, making the device difficult to use for guest and meeting presentations.
“With COVID, we may be back in person,” Rosenthal said of future government meetings, “but a lot of people will [still] be viewing from home.”
Selectman Jeff Capeci agreed, noting the A/V system has been “showing signs of age.
“It’s difficult to see,” he observed, “and the mics are a challenge when we are meeting.”
Calling the upgrade “a good investment,” Capeci added that people who go online to watch the meetings “will be able to participate more with better technology in the room.”
A late language modification was made to allocate $530,000 to offset bonding for capital improvement plan projects, along with applying any necessary funds toward cleanup costs associated with Tropical Storm Isaias, although town officials were still a long way from determining whether or how much of that allocation would be needed.
Tait also flagged three uncommon re-appropriation requests totaling $53,745 that would be applied in the new budget cycle because the primary was delayed from the last to the new fiscal year. The $36,000 was shifted to cover already-budgeted expenses along with added costs required for PPE and disinfecting at the primary polling locations.
It also applied $8,500 to Police Department dues, travel, and education costs, along with $9,245 previously budgeted for de-escalation training that was also postponed from the previous fiscal cycle.
Ahead of the unanimous vote approving the transfers, Rosenthal said he was pleased with last year’s budget outcomes.
“I’m happy to put money into capital non recurring,” the first selectman said. To have the fund balance grow organically is good, he added, but applying part of the surplus to the capital non recurring account has a positive and immediate impact to taxpayers by reducing a reliance on debt and taking pressure off operating budgets in years to come.
“I’m glad we’re in a position to do this,” Rosenthal said.