Selectmen Approve Transfers For Energy Costs, Police Vehicles
Rising costs and scarceness of some things, such as vehicles, have created some snarls in the municipal budget, and the Board of Selectmen at its November 21 meeting made some transfers to meet those needs.
The BOS voted unanimously to transfer $116,000 from Public Works salaries and wages to various Public Works utility line items.
Some unfilled positions, such as the town engineer position, has left some money in that line item, which is being used to address rising salt, fuel, diesel, natural gas, and electric costs.
Public Works Director Fred Hurley said the shortfalls are just projections and if they change over time, there could be follow-up transfers.
“We tried to project where we’d be,” said Hurley of the 2022-23 budget, which was put together last year. “Everyone saw prices going up.”
First Selectman Dan Rosenthal said, “if nothing changes, utilities, including salt, will be $344,000 in the red in those accounts” over the remainder of the budget year ending June 30, 2023.
“Though we do have some flexibility within some of those accounts,” said Rosenthal. “I do think we’ll be able to manage within the confines of this budget.”
As commodity pricing is constantly in flux, Rosenthal put forth a plan to address the shortfall in three parts, in the hopes that prices come down and the town does not end up needing to use the full amount.
“Fuel could get better or worse, salt could get better or worse, it could be a milder winter than we anticipate,” said Rosenthal. “There are things that could score a win for the good guys.”
Hurley noted some commodities prices were unlikely to come down. The town is in an energy consortium, and while the contracts through 2023 are for 7.25 cents per kilowatt hour, the best deal the consortium has been able to find for after that is 12.22 cents per kilowatt hour.
The consortium is currently looking to buy in “blocks,” and hoping that buy timing purchases for dips it might be able to save some money. On the transmission side, Eversource and United Illuminating are seeking “substantial increases” this year, so electricity will be going up there as well.
For gasoline, Hurley said the town currently has relatively cheap gas through December, and then after that they will be buying again and will know that impact. Diesel contracts will be later — sometime in February or March.
Hurley said the town has been “trolling for third parties” offering cheaper natural gas than Eversource, but Eversource has a “stranglehold on Connecticut supply.”
“We’re doing what we can to control pricing,” said Hurley.
Noting that “life is all about timing,” Hurley noted that the town nearly had fuel prices locked in for $3.46 per gallon, but just before it was finalized, “the Saudis announced they were stopping pumping, and prices went up $1.60 per gallon in a day.”
The BOS also unanimously approved a $22,256 transfer from police salaries and wages to vehicles, as well as a $32,000 appropriation for a police administrative vehicle and an additional $10,000 from capital non-recurring for a police vehicle, the rest of which is to be funded from the Police Grants Fund.
Police Chief David Kullgren said the department had put in requests with the state consortium that buys police vehicles for three new ones, budgeted for in this year’s budget. However, limited production by Ford meant only 7,000 SUVs the department uses were produced, only 600 of which were allotted to Connecticut. All three of Newtown’s were among the vehicles cut.
The police department is in line to get its latest allotment in January of 2023. Beyond that, it may be an even longer wait for the vehicles it would budget for next year, as there is a 30 week wait time for them, which means the earliest Newtown would see them is 2024.
In the meantime, Kullgren said the department found an opportunity to purchase an administrative vehicle and did so, to “help fill in the gap.” They also have an opportunity to get one SUV, and are asking for the additional money to add a fourth to this budget year.
“We’re trying to ease the pain of the gap in vehicle procurement,” said Kullgren. “That’s all we can get, we can’t get more. And the prices have gone up significantly.”
Kullgren said the price of a police cruiser with everything it needs to outfit it went up $11,000, roughly a 1/3 increase.
The transfer must still go before the Board of Finance and Legislative Council for approvals.
Associate Editor Jim Taylor can be reached at email@example.com.