The Board of Selectmen made some cuts to the proposed 9% budget increase on the town side Tuesday night, hitting mostly capital requests, getting down to just over a 6.8% increase.
At the end of last month, Town Administrator Karl Kilduff proposed a 9% budget increase for the 2012-13 fiscal year, saying the town could no longer sustain the low level of increases over the last few years.
The proposed budget is $42,290,583, an increase of $3,492,098 over the current fiscal year’s budget. Included in that total is the town’s debt service of $11,400,186 — 81% of that debt service, or $9,234,587, is school-related debt.
The debt service is increasing by $1,304,830. Out of the total debt service, new debt for the Shuffle adds $262,500, or makes up 2.3% of total debt service.
First Selectman Jayme Stevenson told The Darien Times that conversations need to be had about any cuts that would impact services to the town, and whether Darienites would want to lose those services.
Capital cuts included a refurbishment of the Center Street parking lot for $300,000, auditorium lighting for $30,000, and some fire department equipment for $100,000, as well as a police boat engine replacement and a car for the fire marshal.
Other more minor cuts included new beach sand and furniture and equipment for the senior center.
Stevenson said there was some concern of how to approach the student-resource officer at the high school. Currently, Darien Police Chief Duane Lovello is proposing that the student-resource officer, approved by the Board of Education, be one of the regularly staffed patrol officers. Lovello said the cost impact would be in overtime to make up for the patrol officers’ time at the high school.
The officer would be on duty at the high school whenever school is in session, but would return to his regular duty after school hours.
Stevenson said it was important to note that this is a trial year for the student-resource officer, and a review of the financial implications would be taken up in next year’s budget discussions.
“This is not a lock forever,” she said.
She said a concern would be the need for another officer to be added to the police head count if the policy ends up costing too much in overtime.
She also said she hoped that there would be some way to ultimately share the expense of the dedicated school officer with the Board of Ed instead of having the impact entirely on the town side.
Stevenson said she also hopes to establish a town policy on vehicle replacement that will formalize evaluation town-wide rather than individual capital requests per department each year.
As proposed, the largest operational cost center in the budget is Protective & Emergency, at $7.7 million. Public Works falls in next at $4.4 million, followed by the Darien Library at $3.3 million, Central Government at $2.9 million, Human Services at $1.3 million, Parks & Recreation at $1.2 million and Community Environment at $600,000.
Kilduff added that the town employee benefit package is still being negotiated and will possibly go down before the budget’s final vote in May.
The current mill rate, or tax rate, represents a tax of $12.20 per $1,000 of assessed property value.
However, Kilduff advised the board to keep in mind that cuts of $100 here and there weren’t going to make an impact on the mill rate. As the value of 1 mill is $8.7 million, only cuts of at least $87,000 will result in an impact on the mill rate.
Board of Finance Chairman Liz Mao said her board has not had a chance to review the town’s budget yet, but said given the relatively flat increases the last few years, and that the town carries the school debt, the increase was not unexpected.
However, she cautioned that whatever the ultimate town increase comes out to be, that does not equal the increase in the mill rate, given that the town is only approximately 30% of the total budget.
As far as criticisms of the town’s capital spending, Mao said the town is playing “catch-up.”
“Our generation is investing in the town. It wasn’t done 30-40 years ago,” she said.
“Yes, there’s a lot of increase in the debt, and it is unfortunate it is falling on us at this time — but the reality is we have to deal with it,” Mao said.
Mao also added that the “good news” is that revenue, such as from the most recent grand list that increased by 1%, will impact the mill rate, as well as whatever bonding rate the Board of Finance gets for the town’s debt.
She also said that capital investing is not going to take away from other financial areas.
“We’re going to keep the schools funded appropriately,” she said.
The Board of Selectmen is scheduled to vote on a final budget at its next regular meeting, on Monday, Feb. 13 at 7:45 p.m.