The Board of Selectmen unanimously adopted a $41.3 million budget Monday night, representing a 6.4% increase in town spending — 2.9% of which is for the operating the budget. The rest is for town and school capital spending and debt services.
Most of the selectmen’s decisions Monday followed the cuts the board discussed last week, which represented about $1 million. The town administrator had proposed a 9%, or $3.5 million, increase to the 2012-13 town side of the budget.
The budget still needs Board of Finance and Representative Town Meeting approval.
Before the board did some final deliberations, First Selectman Jayme Stevenson made a statement, saying that the process was about preserving current services as well as a commitment to “responsible investment in our infrastructure.”
She assured taxpayers that “our spending is responsible and represents an investment in our community that benefits everyone by spending on services and amenities that support our property values.”
The Board of Selectmen made some cuts to the proposed $3.5 million increase on the town’s part of the budget 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 said the town could no longer sustain the low level of increases over the last few years without making major reductions in services.
The capital project cuts the board made 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.
The selectmen took $15,000 from the Youth Options budget to cover part of the cost of the police officer the town will now station at Darien High School when it is in session.
It 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, Stevenson said last week. 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.
Some other points of discussion Monday included whether to move another $12,000 cut from the Youth Options budget over to the town’s grant to the Depot, making the total just over $50,000. [See other story.]
Democratic Selectmen David Bayne and John Lundeen argued that there are other options for youth in town and wanted more evidence as to why the Depot warranted additional funding.
Stevenson, who formerly served as Depot co-president, as well as fellow Republican Selectmen Dave Campbell and Jerry Nielsen, argued that the Depot served additional needs like social service and crisis intervention.
Another discussion was whether to add money to the budget for Hoyt Street Sidewalks. Stevenson and Lundeen talked about a recent meeting with the state’s Department of Transportation, which Lundeen described as positive. Hoyt Street residents have come out for and against a sidewalk in the Talmadge Hill area, saying commuters and other pedestrians are at risk.
In the end, the board opted to not add money to the budget for sidewalks, choosing to plan to fund any consultant or engineering fees from the contingency fund if needed.
Bayne also made a statement before the vote, saying he was “reluctantly” supporting the budget increase, and felt most of the cuts were simply deferred capital expenses.
“We’re not doing ourselves a favor in years to come,” he said.
He also suggested the board have discussions throughout the year about the budget and Stevenson agreed that a summer discussion over budgetary needs was a good idea.
The town’s employee benefit package is still being negotiated and could be finalized before the RTM budget vote in May.
The current mill rate, or tax rate, represents a tax of $12.20 per $1,000 of assessed property value.
On Tuesday night, the Board of Education adopted a budget of $80.3 million, or a 5.26% increase.