At recent Darien Board of Selectmen 2021 budget meetings, the Board of Selectmen and Town Administrator Kate Buch are going through each item of the proposed budget in detail.

They have highlighted some items of note. For a detailed list of budget items and proposed amounts, visit the town of Darien website and click on Board of Selectmen fiscal ’21 budget documents.

Intern program

Buch said the town should take advantage of the University of Connecticut’s graduate student intern program. The students in the program are getting their master’s degree in public administration. The program costs $16,500.

“I would like to have them study the downtown parking and assist us with ways to manage it,” she said. “I think we can get a high level employee for a few months.”

“We’re not committed to it,” she added. “We apply in April.”

Board of Finance

The Board of Finance has paid for a clerk to take minutes at its meetings and has also paid for the town’s share of the cost of the audit.

“They’re planning to put the audit out to bid and they estimated a slight increase in the cost of the audit,” Buch said.

Darien Historical Society

In the spring, the Darien Historical Society will change its name to The Museum of Darien.

The organization has asked the town for $50,000.

“The grant was provided to them originally in fiscal ’17 on the basis of the fact that they maintain some older town records,” Bush said. “With their desire to move to a museum, they wanted us to support other costs.”

Buch said she doesn’t think this is a municipal responsibility, so therefore has kept the funding to the grant that the town has been providing for the maintenance of the existing documents.

Darien Youth Center

The Darien Youth Center has asked for a $12,000 increase.

Buch decided not to fund this. “I think they do a wonderful job,” she said. However, “there wasn’t sufficient information provided to show how they planned to use the money.”

However, she did budget a three percent increase because they haven’t had an increase in funding in a number of years, so she thought a minor increase was reasonable.

Human Services

Darien Human Services is asking for additional hours for the department’s part-time employees. They work minimal hours but they provide support for the office, according to Buch.

The health department and the human services department share one full-time administrator. The department is a nticipating an “uptick in their client base” with the opening of The Royle at Darien, the senior affordable housing complex, she said.

“So, they feel they need the additional staff hours to support them,” Buch said. “These part-time people support our social workers.”

Mather Center

There is a request that Buch supports for an additional part-time employee at the Mather Center to serve as a program assistant.

“The senior center has grown tremendously. They do a great job with programming but because they are so busy, they don’t have the time to do a lot of additional programming and planning,” Buch said.

She added that the position would also assist in covering the facility when employees are on vacation or when they want to attend outside professional development.

Youth services

Youth services fees cover everything except for the office staff, according to Buch.

“There is a small uptick in program expenses. That’s a result of the cost of the programs they offer during the summer camp [going up],” she said.

She added that returning counselors get a slightly higher rate of pay.

Darien Library

Darien Library has been designated a five-star library by Library Journal in The LJ Index of Public Library Service list of American’s Star Libraries 2019. This is based on performance data including visits, circulation, and Wi-Fi usage.

Caroline Lopez, associate director of operations for the library, said the total increase in the library budget is 6.28 percent. Staffing and benefits represent 87 percent of the total budget request.

She is asking the town for a three percent merit salary increase for staff.

She spoke about an initiative to raise the part-time salaries of the library’s materials management staff from $13.50 to $15 an hour.

The total increase in salaries is 2.04 percent.

In regard to benefits, the largest change to the budget is the increase in the town retirement contribution, which for the library is 38.9 percent.

There are two one-time expenses this year. The first is accrued vacation time. Upon his retirement, library director Alan Gray will receive a pay out of vacation time, which adds 2.16 percent to the library’s total budget request.

“Effective July 1, we’ve modified our vacation carry over policy to prevent such accruals in the future,” Lopez said. “We are setting a limit to carry over. The limit is six weeks by July 1.”

The library also has a request for a new truck for snowplowing.

The library does all of its own snowplowing. When the truck the library purchased in 2013 went in for service this year at the Department of Public Works, the library was it probably have one year left for snowplowing, “since the trucks get so beat up,” Lopez said.

The town plans to trade in the truck. The trade-in value is estimated to be $8,500. The total requested budget is now $28,000.

Police

Police officers spoke about Molle vests.

Capt. Robert Shreders said the officers now carry a lot of equipment, so if they have a smaller waist, some of them have no room on their belt. In addition, some officers have bad knees, backs, and hips.

“The Molle vests allows you to take some of your equipment off your gun belt and spread it out on your chest to relieve some of the burden on your back and hips, and it gives people more room to carry all the different equipment that we have,” Shreders said.

On the subject of school crossing guards, First Selectman Jayme Stevenson said she feels strongly that this is a service that should be reimbursed to the town from the Board of Education.

Anderson said if a school guard is placed at a specific location, he or she can’t predict if there will be children around to cross.

He said he is in discussions with the Board of Education in regard to this topic. Police will be looking at the number of students that walk in certain locations in town.

On the topic of communications, the increase that is being requested is a result of the proposal to staff the midnight shift with civilians.

This would be adding three dispatchers to cover that shift, with two dispatchers seven days a week.

Buch is in support of this. “We train our police officers to be police officers. We spend a lot of money training them. They should be doing the work that they were trained to do,” she said.

In turn, there should be people who are specially trained in dispatch doing the dispatch job to provide the best service to the taxpayers.

“The model for a civilian dispatch program was sound then. I think it’s sound now,” Anderson said. “Moving forward, if we are going to a civilian dispatch program, we have to get that in place and running, and then have a discussion on redeployment of sworn personnel and potential offsets between civilian hours and officers.”

sfox@darientimes.com