Council Will Review Lake Authorities’ Budgets Before Restoring Funding
The Legislative Council at its November 16 meeting decided to delay a decision on the restoration of $11,157 to the budgets of the two lake authorities while it does “due diligence” in reviewing the numbers and the reason for the increase in the 2022-23 budget.
The vote to table the decision was made along party lines, 7-3. Republicans Jeff Capeci, Ryan Knapp, Charles Gardner, Matthew Mihalcik, Lisa Kessler, Phil Carroll, and Angela Curi voted to hold off on delivering the funds. Democrats Chris Gardner, Tom Long, and Michelle Embree Ku voted against delaying the decision.
First Selectman Dan Rosenthal questioned what the “endgame” was for delaying the transfer.
Rosenthal, at the November 7 Board of Selectmen meeting, had previously reported that an amendment to the line item for the Lake Authorities in the 2022-23 municipal budget to match the 2021-22 budget request, a reduction of $11,157, made by the council last April was not permissible by state statute. According to statute, the payment to the lake authorities is an assessment, not a request, and that the lake authorities are “creatures of the state.”
Rosenthal further noted at the council meeting that the only way to not pay the full amount assessed would be to withdraw from both the Lake Lillinonah Authority and Lake Zoar Authority, a move that would open “another can of worms” and require the town to patrol its frontage on both lakes on its own.
“The lake authorities were formed for economy of scale,” said Rosenthal, noting that the lake authorities share costs for patrolling the lakes between member towns, six towns for Lillinonah (Newtown, Bridgewater, Brookfield, New Milford, Southbury, and Roxbury) and four towns for Zoar (Newtown, Monroe, Oxford, and Southbury).
Rosenthal said that withdrawing from one or both lake authorities would cost the town more in the long run.
According to the April 6 meeting minutes, Knapp moved to amend the line item Lake Authorities to $53,735 — seconded by Mihalcik. Following a failed attempted amendment by Mihalcik, the requested reduction passed 7-5 with Mihalcik and council members Chris Gardner, Tom Long, Michelle Embree Ku, and Dan Honan voting against the motion.
The prior reduction of $11,157, which the BOS voted to restore to the Lake Authorities line item at its November 7 meeting, took into account approximately $3,000 of the request for the Lake Zoar Authority, with the balance for the Lake Lillinonah Authority.
“Quasi-town agencies like Edmond Town Hall and the library make requests, that none of the town bodies are under any obligation to fund in the amount asked,” said Rosenthal. “In this case, the authority is a creature of the state. It’s not a luxury we have [to reduce its request].”
By State Statute Section 7-151b, “Each town shall pay to the authority its respective share of the expenses of the commission prorated on the basis of linear footage of shore line or any other formula agreed on and adopted by a majority of the legislative bodies of all member towns.”
Bill May, treasurer of the Lake Zoar Authority and the Newtown representative on that body, told the council that the authority’s budget is not based on fixed costs, but patrolling the lake, fuel costs, and is weather dependent. That said, he does not anticipate much of an increase going into next year.
Scott Schifilliti, chairman of the Lake Lillinonah Authority and a Newtown representative, said the 2022-23 budget increase came from things like equipment being in dire need of replacement or repairs, boat costs, staffing wage increases (Lake Lillinonah uses its own staff, not local police like Lake Zoar), and a police shed that requires a generator and alarm system. They have been spending from their reserves.
Large Increase Expected
Schifilliti also warned he expected another large increase next year so that the authority does not spend out its reserves.
Knapp said he had a hard time justifying the increase with the increased lake traffic from COVID having diminished and not having seen a detailed budget from them. Schifilliti said that Lake Lillinonah was like a “best kept secret in Connecticut” and that while lake traffic increased during COVID, new boaters to the lake who discovered it for the first time during the pandemic have continued to come and lake traffic continues to be way up.
Schifilliti and May also both addressed Knapp’s statement that he didn’t see a detailed budget, saying they had sent full budget audits to the town early in the year.
Ku and Gardner both said that the town had the information and it was on the council to review everything before making cuts. Not having done so is the fault of the council and the money should be given back to the lake authorities.
Knapp disagreed, stating he did request to see the budget information for the lake authorities prior to the meeting where he moved to cut their budgets, but did not receive it. He felt he wanted to review the numbers before approving anything.
“It’s the council’s role to review, then approve, not approve then review,” said Knapp. “The lake season is over, I’m not seeing two weeks as making much of a difference.”
Schiffiliti said he’s in the process of preparing the budget for next year and needs to know if the money from this year is coming back.
The council is expected to bring the subject back up at its December 7 meeting.
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