Selectmen Finish Budget Review, Make Small Cuts
At its January 29 meeting, the Board of Selectmen approved a $48,834,506 proposed municipal budget, a $1,308,366 or 2.75 percent spending increase.
The town budget is expected to move on to the Board of Finance for its review, to be joined by the school budget.
The selectmen made $22,160 in cuts, including $12,918 from the Parks & Recreation Department since the workers will not be receiving a raise from the town as they already received an increase in the minimum wage; $10,848 from Social Services and $1,605 from Economic and Community Development. This reduced the budget from First Selectman Jeff Capeci’s initial proposed budget of $48,856,666, which would have been a 2.8 percent spending increase.
Capeci said at a January 18 BOS meeting that before his review, the budgets he received from department heads would have been a 6.25 percent spending increase, “which was a bit high to my regards.”
On January 22, the selectmen reviewed the police budget. The Police Department budget has an increase of $484,332 or 6.15 percent, mainly due to salaries and wages, benefits, and retirement contributions.
Police Chief David Kullgren noted that currently, most shifts at the department are at or below minimum manpower 78.31 percent of the time, due to lack of staffing. He noted that officers had been moved from traffic enforcement and one from the schools to shore up the patrol division. Situations where an officer must work an additional shift to cover a callout happen roughly five times per week.
Kullgren noted that the required training and other mandates on the police force are “escalating demands” on the officers’ time and have increased time on calls for service and decreased response times.
“We’re facing challenges meeting the demands of modern policing” due to lack of staffing, Kullgren said. A staffing report “underscores the necessity of additional officers to continue to meet community expectations.”
A single motor vehicle accident with a fatality could potentially tie up all the officers on a shift for hours, meaning other calls for service “have to wait.”
Capeci, who cut a requested new officer position from the police department budget, said he was “pretty new” as first selectman and wanted to make sure he understood “all the dynamics.” He said this year’s budget is already “under pressure” from increasing interest rates and inflation.
Kullgren said that he was hoping to add several new officers over the next few years. Police Commissioner Scott Cicciari said that not adding an officer this year was “looking at the short term,” and that the town needed to look at the long term.
“There is a downstream effect of not starting now [in dealing with staffing issues],” Cicciari said.
On January 24, members of the Board of Trustees of the C.H. Booth Library presented the library budget, which is being increased to $1,475,000, an increase of $173,531 or 13.33 percent.
The library was facing a spending cliff as it had been cut by $100,000 by the Legislative Council in the 2023-24 budget after having been flat funded since 2021. The library was approved for $1,407,621 in the 2022-23 budget, and was cut to $1,307,621 in the 2023-24 budget. The council requested that the library spend down its $523,882 fund balance, which they did.
Of the amount, $147,907 was designated to cover the 2023-24 budget deficit. Additionally, $200,000 is earmarked for capital improvements; $169,593, equal to roughly ten percent of the operating budget, is designated as an operating reserve; and there is $6,382 left in undesignated surplus.
Trustee Don Studley said the trustees were “pleased” to see the increase for the library after the work they had done to follow the council’s directive.
Studley said the “lion’s share” of the library’s budget is spent on personnel, and no new positions are being added.
Also presenting on January 24 was the Department of Public Works. Public Works director Fred Hurley noted that his budget is really “four different budgets plus a fifth energy budget,” but overall his department was seeking a $234,149 or 2.61 percent spending increase.
Hurley noted that without an increase to roadwork of $100,000, which the town has been increasing every year to meet inflationary demands, his budget would have only had a $134,149 or 1.49 percent spending increase.
The highway budget is increasing by 2.6 percent, the transfer station is increasing by 1.99 percent, winter maintenance is increasing 1.16 percent and public building maintenance is decreasing by five percent.
Much of the increase for highway was driven by salaries and benefits. Repairs and maintenance also increased by five percent due to inflationary pressures on the cost of parts and labor.
The department has $3.1 million for roadwork this year, which the town, under the direction of former First Selectman Dan Rosenthal, moved entirely from bonding into the regular town budget to avoid interest costs and ensure that the roads remain in good repair. The money will be used for 18 planned miles of road overlay, reclamation and paving, and drainage work, and seven miles of chip sealing.
Hurley mentioned that a dump truck and street sweeper were moved from the budget to the Capital Improvement Plan for a future year, and that an all-season body replacement for a dump truck and a frame rail replacement for another dump truck were moved to the capital recurring fund for this year. Additionally, the department will be receiving a dump truck and front and bucket loader using American Rescue Plan funds this year.
Winter maintenance’s increase is mainly due to the increased cost per ton for salt, while the cost for sand has gone done.
The transfer station’s increase was largely driven by increases in group insurance, as well as salary increases.
Public building maintenance’s budget decreased by five percent due to a $73,000 cut in the electricity line item and a $17,050 cut in the oil/natural gas line item, due to negotiated decreased costs for both.
Editor Jim Taylor can be reached at email@example.com.