The Darien Board of Selectmen’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2021 is $47,875,998, an increase of $135,310, or 0.28 percent, from the current year’s adopted budget.

The budget was presented by Town Administrator Kate Buch at the Board of Selectmen’s first budget workshop on Monday, Jan. 27. It was to be posted on the town’s website Tuesday.

When introducing the proposed budget, Buch said most, if not all, of the budgets are built from zero.

She added that the budget is a policy document. “It’s a plan to deliver services to the taxpayers,” she said.

The workshop, which took place at Town Hall, was about 30 minutes long and attended by about a dozen people.

By comparison, last year’s proposed total Board of Selectmen budget increase was 2.94%.

Budget highlights

The biggest change to the budget from the current year is a reduction in debt service.

“The Board of Finance redeemed some bonds last year, and this budget proposal includes a recommendation for a new debt issuance,” Buch said. “The net results of the redemption and the new debt is a budget reduction of almost $1.5 million in fiscal ’21.”

According to Buch, another big budget change this time is in the pension plan and OPEB (Other Postemployment Benefits plans). These are retiree medical benefits.

The pension committee voted to make two changes to the assumptions that are used in the valuation. The first is a new mortality table being implemented.

“This is based on public sector employees,” Buch said. “That didn’t exist in the past. This is the first time that there actually is a mortality table that just looks at public sector employees. “

Public sector employees have a longer lifespan, which causes a higher liability for a plan, according to Buch.

The pension committee also voted to reduce the Investment Earnings Assumption.

“It’s been at 6.5 for a number of years, and this budget assumes dropping it to 6.375,” Buch said. “The actuary’s recommendation is that we drop it in increments to six percent over four years.”

The increase to the budget as a result of these policy changes is about $656,000 to the town, Buch said.

This policy change also affects the library grant, the sewer and parking funds, and the Board of Education budget.

Another large impact on the budget is the addition of the third shift of police dispatchers. With this proposal, the town would have full civilian dispatch.

“It would allow us to bring back the fire dispatch in-house,” Buch said.

The cost impact is approximately $300,000.

The police department’s full-time salaries are one of the largest line items in the budget, at $3.8 million. This includes detail on the patrol division’s overtime.

Capital requests are up about $271,000. That represents town projects only, Buch said.

“I’m proposing we fund an upgrade to Town Hall heating controls, converting the Norton Fire Department from oil to natural gas, and funding our various vehicle replacement plans,” Buch said.

The library grant is up $249,745.

In regard to medical insurance, the “worst case scenario” is that the town will have a zero percent increase, Buch said. The estimated reduction is $137,000.

Step process of serving time for union employees

Depending on the union, there are different numbers of steps employees pass through.

“We typically hire you at step one,” Buch said. “The theory is that you’re learning and growing in your job and as you learn and grow and advance, you should get something extra. Every year, either on your anniversary date or on July 1, in addition to the agreed upon increase in the grid, you move up a step.”

Buch said the town had a positive year, after some bad years. “Don’t expect that every year,” she said.

Watch the full Board of Selectmen’s first budget workshop meeting on Darien TV79.

sfox@darientimes.com