Darien town budget looks to increase by over 7%

Town spending is slated to increase by about $2.9 million, or 7.14%, if the Board of Selectmen approves the budget put forward by Karl Kilduff, town administrator.

Kilduff presented his budget to selectmen at their Monday meeting, outlining a $43,125,586 spending plan, which, if the Board of Education’s budget were approved as is, would reflect 34% of Darien’s total spending of $128,036,732.

The town administrator lamented the selectmen’s tradition of “putting their finger in the dike” to delay needed investments, a practice which has gained steam since the 2008 financial collapse.

“Over a series of budgets, the town has reduced its costs and people,” he said. “This has put us on a path of unsustainable budgeting. This is not something that can hold back the dam waters indefinitely.”

Big changes in the budget came from the Protective Services line, which accounts for upkeep at the new Darien Police Headquarters, the $18 million renovation project that was completed last November at $1 million under budget. Police expect to spend 5.8% more this coming year, or about $453,565 more than the current year.

The Department of Public Works budget is also slated to go up $137,727, or about 3%, due to a proposed change in road maintenance equipment, as well as handling the growing number of town facilities.

Kilduff proposed the reorganizing of facilities management, and set aside $100,000 for a consultant to help the town better manage its facilities, which are currently handled in a “piecemeal” fashion, according to Kilduff.

“I think it’s clear we need to do something different with facility management,” Kilduff told selectmen. “That’s why we’re taking a contractor approach.”

The new Weed Beach facilities and the Mather Community Center, along with the old library renovation on Leroy Avenue, are reasons why Kilduff said the selectmen should consider revising their approach to managing town properties.

The library budget is preliminarily set to increase by almost $100,000, or 3%, but its board of directors has yet to approve their official budget. The Parks & Recreation budget was also scheduled to increase by about $100,000, or 8.1%, mostly to account for the additional services to be offered at the Mather Center.

Spending on Human Services, formerly known as social services, has been proposed to increase by $41,710, or 3.2%, due to a rise in demand for services and improvement in types of services provided, Kilduff said.

The town’s price lock on electricity will expire in December of this year, so the town will begin seeking quotes on power during the upcoming budget talks.

Health care is proposed to increase by 25% due to a rise in claims, Kilduff said, although he expects this number to decrease as the year progresses, which has traditionally been the case.

“Normally we start at a very high point,” he said. “This number has a tendency to work its way down. We’re hoping that additional months will reflect a more reasonable increase.”

The general government budget was proposed to decrease by about $34,000, or 1.2%. Personnel costs were slated to go up by $1.2 million, or 7.27%; risk management is set to increase by 9.11%, or $740,880; and road maintenance is set to rise by 10.03%, or $55,225.

Debt service spending in education began decreasing last year, and Kilduff proposed adding $1.5 million in the capital budget for a new drainage project at Intervale Road. Other proposed capital expenses include repairs to the Noroton Heights Fire Department apparatus bay, funding for a new sidewalk project (although it’s still unclear which project would go first), traffic engineering related to a Route 1 corridor study, and renovating the customer service counter at Town Hall.

General fund support for capital expenses is proposed to increase by $775,041, or 37.8%.

Kilduff said he’s already cut the capital budget by $1.2 million and the operating budget by nearly $434,000. Any cut proposed by selectmen would have to be in increments of roughly $87,000 to affect the mill rate, which is a taxation figure based on assessed property value. This is assuming the Board of Ed budget remains the same and the Grand List is unchanged, which is unlikely, considering the steady growth in value of all Darien properties over the years.

The current mill rate is equal to $12.28 per every $1,000 of assessed property value. The average Darien home is valued at $1.26 million, Kilduff said, which means an $87,000 cut would decrease that person’s taxes by $8.82, under the proposed budgets.

All things being equal, if all budgets are passed and the grand list remains unchanged, the mill rate would be 13.58. However, this is merely an academic exercise, Kilduff noted, as the grand list is likely to increase in value, and changes are likely to be made in both the education and town budgets.

Selectman David Bayne asked Kilduff why more money wasn’t budgeted for legal expenses, especially given that the town has under-budgeted that spending for the last two years.

Kilduff said it’s impossible to predict what kind of litigation the town will become involved in over the next 18 months. The fiscal year begins July 1, 2013. Kilduff added that fees from the town counsel, Wayne Fox, are not scheduled to increase.

Selectmen are slated to meet for an in-depth budget discussion at 9 a.m. on Saturday, Feb. 2, at Town Hall, where department heads will present their budget requests in further detail.


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