Darien’s Board of Selectmen unanimously approved a budget of $45,689,237 for the town government for the upcoming 2018-19 fiscal year, a decrease of 1.05% from 2017-18. For the past month the board has been reviewing the town administrator’s proposed budget, cutting about a quarter million dollars in expenses in the process.
The town budget represents about a third of Darien’s annual spending, with education costs making up the majority. The Board of Education approved an operating budget of $98.12 million earlier this month, an increase of 2.34% from the prior year. Both budgets will move on to the Board of Finance for review and approval, then onto the Representative Town Meeting for a final vote and implementation.
Town department heads were asked to target a flat budget for the upcoming fiscal year as the town expects less grant support and funding from the state moving forward. First Selectman Jayme Stevenson has thanked the town’s leaders for being cooperative in maintaining current spending levels throughout the process. The Darien Library, which consistently represents the greatest percentage increase in town spending each year, was able to save an additional $42,391 by asking a private donor group, the Friends of the Darien Library, to take on workers compensation and medical insurance costs associated with their events.
Among the other cuts made by the Board of Selectmen was the deferment of the police department’s civilian dispatch program, which had aimed to add three new employees to the program during the year. Police Chief Ray Osborne said the additional staff was necessary for the program to provide 24-hour civilian dispatch which would allow sworn officers to take on other duties. However, the long term expenses that come with hiring were too much for the selectmen to commit to with the dispatch program still in its early phases.
The selectmen also decided to wait on a request to upgrade the equipment at the town’s firefighter training facility, suggesting that the town fire departments should develop a capital spending plan to give an overview of spending for a several year span, rather than adding small projects to their budget each year.
On Monday, Stevenson also said the $13,498 appropriated for the town’s Fourth of July firework celebration may also be removed from the budget due to complications with planning this year’s event. While the fireworks program has been at Darien High School for the last few years, one of the school’s turf fields was heavily damaged by the fireworks in 2017 and the town had to provide a work around for ongoing construction. With the DHS cafeteria being under construction this summer and the potential for damage to the turf fields, the high school does not appear to be an viable location for this year’s fireworks.
The selectmen did inquire about lighting the fireworks from a barge off the shore of Weed Beach, and potentially combining the Fourth of July celebration with the Parks & Recreation Department’s Weed Beach Festival. However, Darien police do not believe that there would be adequate pedestrian safety leaving the beach due to the event’s large turnout.
Stevenson said the board is still looking into possibilities but volunteers are needed to make the celebration possible. Selectman Susan Marks and local volunteer Stacy Tie have helped organize the event in past years but are looking for new leadership to help with the process. Without adequate support from volunteers and a suitable venue, the fireworks may be on hiatus for 2018.