The Darien Board of Selectmen finalized its proposed 2014-15 town budget that includes an increase in spending, but not without some late friction.
After an hour of discussion, the town’s top board voted unanimously to approve a $44,685,190 spending plan that will go to the Board of Finance for further review. The overall plan is up 5.22% from the current town budget. The general operating fund will rise to $30,878,125, an increase of 4.33%.
The proposed budget also includes a debt service of $11,746,099.
The budget was approved only after board members clashed on the proposed increase and agreed to cut $92,000 that would have been used to pay for a civilian dispatcher. Democrats Reilly Tierney and Kip Hall told the board they could not endorse the $44,777,292 figure they came into the meeting with because they wanted to find possible cost savings elsewhere.
Hall said residents who have spoken to him “cannot tolerate a 5% increase in taxes. They include seniors and they include people who have not recovered from the financial crisis.” Some people, Hall said, have told him they plan to move out of town.
Tierney said he hoped that items he and Hall brought up could be further discussed and talked about by the Board of Finance. Tierney said it’s also not the time to discuss increasing spending when the town’s grand list fell.
“I don’t think in good conscience we can do that at this time,” he said.
First Selectman Jayme Stevenson expressed frustration, saying the board had discussed the numbers several times over two weeks and they knew they were going to vote on Wednesday.
Tierney and Hall said they wanted to continue looking at a list they provided to the board where spending reductions could be made. In addition to the civilian dispatcher, which would have someone other than a police officer working on fielding emergency calls, Tierney also discussed changing the funding for upgrading the emergency radio system, a project that would cost about $348,000.
Stevenson said she found it interesting that items the Democrats wanted to cut were involved with public safety.
While the board agreed to keep the radio system funding in the budget, they plan to ask the Board of Finance to see if there are other ways to fund it, such as through bonding.
Stevenson said after the meeting that she was surprised by Tierney and Hall asking for changes on Wednesday. Stevenson said she was pleased the board could reach a compromise and deliver a responsible budget. But she expressed frustration that Hall and Tierney did not mention their concerns about those cuts earlier. She wondered if it was “philosophy or political ideology that took the stage this evening.”
“This evening’s discussion was far more challenging than I expected based on the conversations we had in the past few nights,” she said.
The Board of Finance will begin review of the selectmen’s budget at its May 4 meeting.