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Selectmen, Dept Heads Meet To Pitch For Budget Dollars

Published: January 26, 2018 at 12:00 am


"Non-essential" town employees have been told to stay home Thursday, February 9, due to a Nor'easter moving through the region.
"Non-essential" town employees have been told to stay home Thursday, February 9, due to a Nor'easter moving through the region.

This report was updated at 4:30 pm on January 29 to correct the date of an East Hartford plane crash that affected Newtown municipal internet services.

During a special budget session January 23, the Board of Selectmen met with department heads representing four of the largest lines in the proposed 2018-19 annual spending plan. But since there is little municipal revenue to spare for large expenses and capital purchases, the session with each representative was relatively short, with acutely specific points to be made.

These departments were called first because they represent 91 percent of the overall municipal budget increase. The overall requested increase of 2.5 percent or $1,007,000 more than the current year, would provide taxpayers with the "same services" as the current year.

The total proposed municipal budget for next year, that includes all debt service on borrowing for town and school capital projects, stands at $41,092,967.

On January 23, selectmen heard first from Al Miles, Newtown's technology director. According to the proposed budget draft submitted by First Selectman Dan Rosenthal, the Technology Department would see an increase over the current year of $69,941 or 10.6 percent. While salaries and nonmedical benefit cost increases account for more than $20,000, those lines are offset somewhat by a $3,044 reduction in medical benefit expenses for its personnel.

That created some flexibility for Mr Miles to plan for various hardware and software upgrades that are part of what he described as a "roadmap" to get the municipality to where he perceives it needs to be from a technology standpoint. The issue of needing more than one pipeline to transact computerized information remains a significant concern according to the department head.

He explained that town-owned fiber optic systems are beginning to show their age, and one recent issue proved to Mr Miles that the town needs some type of maintenance plan and provider for the system, which he is beginning to explore. Mr Miles also articulated the need to begin linking and consolidating data storage and availability across the entire municipal network, which currently has numerous storage sites that are not linked.

"We need faster and more unified internet," Mr Miles said. Referring to the single internet conduit currently in service, the technology director added, "Right now, we have one way out. And if we lose that, we lose most municipal office productivity."

He cited a 2016 plane crash in East Hartford that took out internet service of all of Newtown's municipal offices for a period of several hours as evidence that the current system needs a backup or secondary conduit for internet connectivity.

Mr Miles said the town would also see cost savings by reducing the amount of technology host devices from the current seven, down to three or four due to the elimination of three or four separate licenses for each host. Then, unifying those hosts would provide the ability to share resources and storage systemwide.

He has plans to increase the current network capacity from one gigabyte to ten, but said that would need to be phased in over time due to cost and logistics.

From a hardware perspective, Mr Miles told selectmen that parts of the system are so old, a recent switch failure caused a vendor for the town to mount an international search for a replacement part, because none were available anywhere in the United States. And a part eventually located in Costa Rica was found to be inoperable once it was delivered and installed.

When asked by Selectman Maureen Crick Owen whether the $52,000 available in the budget request would be enough to "get started" toward his goals, Mr Miles replied in the affirmative, saying he would likely start by improving network services.


Police Department

Police Chief James Viadero and Captain Christopher Venghele were on hand to briefly review and answer questions about their 2018-19 spending plan. Documentation shows that police services could see a budget increase of $283,722 or 4.3 percent. This is mainly due to an increase of 19 percent to the pension contribution, and a 2.25 percent increase in salaries and wages - plus the effect of salary steps.

The difference between step 1 and step 2 is approximately $4,000. Four positions had step increases, but as with the Technology Department, this increase is partially offset by a decrease in group insurance.

The department budget request also shows a 5.3 percent of $8,300 decrease in overtime, but Chief Viadero said a measurable part of the remaining $151,000 is because of a policy change that requires sworn officers to monitor prisoners who are being held locally for questioning or arraignment. That was previously handled via a monitoring system by members of the emergency communications staff.

An increase of $7,500 in the vehicle account, Chief Viadero said, is due to the department's conversion from squad cars to SUVs. He told selectmen that there is a negligible difference between acquiring modified all-wheel-drive Ford Taurus sedans, and larger all-wheel-drive Ford Explorers, so the department would eventually see a switch over to an all SUV patrol fleet.

He said the last few Ford Crown Victoria sedans are being phased out, and as the remaining few squad cars begin to exceed 100,000 miles of combined road and idle time, they would be relegated to secondary use. The chief said these vehicles would in effect become moneymakers for the department, because their primary use would be providing safety support on construction sites and for other various uses compensated by the entity requiring the vehicles on site.

The Explorers also provide a five-year, 100,000-mile warranty, which helps keep significant breakdown repairs to a minimum.

Chief Viadero said a $2,800 equipment increase is attributed to replacing bullet proof vests that are using new and slightly more expensive technology, as well as vest covers and other equipment that front line officers and recruits are required to have as soon as they enter the academy. Wear and tear on mobile radios, and the replacement of aging in-car laptop computers are also constituting a modest increase in the equipment line.

To supplement traffic enforcement, Chief Viadero said he wants to add several solar-powered speed warning signs that would be installed in areas where frequent speeder complaints are generated. The police are also exploring installing permanent warning signals at crosswalks in the Borough to replace costly temporary stanchions that are not practical and are often hit by passing vehicles.


Parks And Highway

The Parks & Recreation Department was represented by Commission Chairman Ed Marks, Director Amy Mangold, and Assistant Director Carl Samuelson. The Parks & Recreation budget has increased by $46,042 or 1.9 percent. Change is mainly due to an increase in contractual services for maintaining the grounds at Sandy Hook elementary school, along with other various service contracts.

Mr Marks told the selectmen that he was hoping the new budget cycle would represent a "fresh start" in terms of the town providing the necessary funding to keep the parks department sustainable. He pointed out that when totaling reductions to each of the past 11 years of requested capital spending, selectmen had slashed the equivalent of one entire year's worth of requested capital funding.

He said the department needs to replace a truck every year, and recent budgets have provided very little money to replace broken or obsolete equipment.

"We don't know how were going to maintain our fleet," he said, adding that the requested $404,000 for 2018 was reduced to $126,000. "It's a tough environment for us."

Ms Mangold told selectmen that contractual bumps make up the bulk of her department's requested increases, and that her department needs to conform to mandated increases in minimum wage. Mr Samuelson said that there appears to be a substantial increase for contract renewals for a computerized system that monitors and distributes irrigation to various town fields. He said the unusually high amount requested is because he is renewing all contract renewals for the system next year.

Conversation around the Public Works and Highway Department budget request was minimal, and focused mainly on balancing funds to cover winter road maintenance supplies.

The budget for the Highway Department, for fiscal year 2018-19 is increased by $348,279 or 5.0 percent. The increase is attributed to increases in wages and benefits, in retirement contributions, contractual road work, capital road improvements and capital equipment procurement.

Without a planned $250,000 increase for road repairs and maintenance, the highway budget increase would be 1.4 percent according to Finance Director Robert Tait. A requested capital increase of $28,100 includes a stainless steel replacement Mack truck body, Public Works Director Fred Hurley explained.

A planned budget session January 25 was canceled, with selectmen planning to take up requests from the Board of Fire Commissioners, Edmond Town Hall, the C.H. Booth Library, and possibly other departments on Monday, January 29, at 7:30 pm.

Mr Rosenthal said he expects to conclude any deliberations and move the proposed budget to the Board of Finance at the February 5 selectmen's meeting.

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