Budget breakdown for Darien in Fiscal Year 2011
Both the Board of Selectmen and the Board of Education have officially approved their budgets, which represent a 1.2 and 4.5 percent increase over last year, respectively. Each budget will come before the Board of Finance, where they may see more trimming, before moving forward to the Representative Town Meeting in May.
The 12.4 percent increase in the public works' budget was the largest proposed increase of any department in the Town Administrator's Proposed Budget. According to Town Administrator Karl Kilduff, the jump was mainly due to $330,000 in paving costs; the increase would have been 4.3 percent otherwise.
The BOS trimmed these paving costs by $55,000 during its review of the budget, in a measure that Democratic Selectman David Bayne said will improve efficiency and affect curbing. It will not affect the amount of mileage the town plans to pave in the coming year, which is currently slated at 2.9 miles, Bayne said.
This department had the second highest proposed budget increase when measured by percentage, climbing 6.1 percent from last year. This increase was driven by maintenance of the senior center building on Edgerton Road; without maintenance needs at that facility, the increase would have been 2 percent, according to Kilduff.
Last year, the budget allocated $5,000 for repairs and maintenance to the building; this year, health and human resources requested $49,870. That number was reduced to $45,370 in the Town Administrator's Budget, and further reduced to $42,370 by the BOS in an effort to offset the cost of a part-time custodian for the building.
The Darien Library is funded by both public and private dollars. This year, the library asked for $3.1 million from the town, an increase of about $70,000, or 2.3 percent, which was approved by the BOS.
The library decreased personnel costs by about $12,000 in its request for Fiscal Year 2011 by holding employees to its new 40-hour workweek and eliminating the need for a part-time position. Additionally, the library awarded no salary increases to the administrative staff, while allowing other employees to receive performance-based raises of no more than 2.25 percent.
The largest portion of the increase is due to a rise in health insurance and retirement cost, an issue facing departments across the board. The library asked for, and received, an additional $42,050 for health insurance and retirement costs. Employee benefits will cost the library $634,150, which accounts for 20.3 percent of the library's total budget.
The increase also includes an additional $33,000 (37 percent) increase in the electricity budget over last year, due to energy usage above construction engineering estimates of the building, which was opened to the public last January.
This portion of the budget encompasses police, fire and medical services in town, and accounts for 18.8 percent of the town's budget -- more than any other department. The operational side of the protective services budget was proposed to increase at 1.4 percent, bringing it up to $7.3 million.
Major changes in the protective services budget this year include a $64,000 increase in overtime for police patrol, bringing the line item up to $350,000 for Fiscal Year 2011 in an effort to "reflect more accurate anticipated usage based on four years' history." In 2010, the town budgeted approximately $290,000 in overtime, but as of halfway through the current fiscal year the department already expended 72 percent of that allowance. According to budget documents, this situation was an anomaly, due to numerous vacancies, injuries and illnesses.
Other notable increases under the protective services umbrella fall under the capital side of the budget. The BOS approved $12,860 to be allocated to the Noroton Heights Fire Department to purchase a thermal imaging camera, which was not included in Kilduff's proposed budget.
Additionally, Kilduff's proposed capital budget included $8,500 for a trailer used to store cots for emergency purposes, which the BOS decided not to fund. Currently emergency cots are stored at the high school. According to budget documents, during the current fiscal year, "the town purchased 80 cots, blankets and pillows, bringing the town owned units to approximately 342." The Office of Emergency Management requested another 480 cots in Fiscal Year 2011, which Kilduff reduced to 240. The BOS further slashed this request to 100 new cots, trimming another $8,890 from the budget.
Board of Education:
Darien Public Schools Superintendent Donald Fiftal brought a proposed budget of $72.7 million in front of the BOE in January, which the BOE later reduced to $71.8 million. Though the cuts reduced the budget increase from 5.8 percent to 4.5 percent, it still stands at about $680,000 more than the BOF's recommended number.
While the school side of the budget for Fiscal Year 2011 reflected dramatic increases in employee benefits, including a $1.7 million (23.7 percent) hike in health insurance, changes to state funding in special education proved to be one of the biggest hurdles in the budget process, Fiftal said.
His original proposed budget included a request to add 14.8 teacher aides to the special education program districtwide at a cost of nearly $450,000, which the board reduced to four staff members, slicing $285,000 from the $13.8 million special education budget.
"We're still meeting the requirements of the IEP [individual educational program]. But in some cases, there were some excesses of time that we found in employee's schedules that we're utilizing to narrow down that request," Fiftal said.
Darien spends roughly $13,000 per pupil, and can spend several times that amount for special education students. The district is responsible for funding the difference in these students' educational costs up to 4.5 times that of a non-special-education student. Any costs in excess of that amount are supposed to be reimbursed by the state in an "excess cost grant."
"In Darien, this current year, we have roughly $3 million of excess cost that we validated and sent to the state to look at and we haven't gotten the final tally on that," Fiftal said. "But we were told that even when they agree with the final tally, we wont get 100 percent of that because of state budget problems. They may only be able to fund 70 percent. Instead of getting $3 million back, we only get 70 percent of that, which is about $900,000 less than we got last year."
An additional $900,000 in revenue would bring the budget down to a 3.18 percent budget increase over last year -- less than the BOF's recommended 3.5 percent increase.