Highland Farm improvements make up big part of selectmen budget increase
Improvements to Highland Farm would make up a considerable portion of the 2019-20 proposed Board of Selectmen budget increase.
The full Board of Selectmen budget was presented by First Selectman Jayme Stevenson to the Board of Finance on March 5. The proposed budget is $48,194,755. The 2018-19 Board of Selectmen budget was $47,049,394.
The proposed budget includes $30.1 million dollars for general operating costs, which would be a $1.12 million increase over last year. This includes expenses such as $332,000 for civilian dispatchers, $90,000 for a parks laborer, and $88,000 for medical insurance.
It also includes a $3.82 million grant to the Darien Public Library. “They came in with a 2.34% increase this year,” Stevenson said.
The Board of Selectmen is proposing $775,000 in capital spending to be paid for with borrowing in the bond market.
According to Stevenson, this breaks down to $600,000 for the total cost of Highland Farms improvements, $30,000 in additional funding for the natural gas conversion at the Noroton Fire Department, and $50,000 in additional funding for the town hall generator “which we hope gets installed this year,” she said.
This also includes $75,000 for the town hall gym upgrades and $20,000 for repair to the front steps connecting upper town hall to the Mather Center.
In addition, the Board of Selectmen would like the Board of Finance to consider a $10.878 million debt service budget, which includes $4.1 million for the town, $6 million for the Board of Education, and $737,000 for the sewer debt.
The total Board of Selectmen operating and capital budget increase would be 2.53% over fiscal year 19.
The OpenGov software tool has been fully implemented on the town side. The Board of Ed has opted to not enroll.
The town has also implemented department by department performance measures, budget drivers, accomplishments, objectives, and a five-year outlook, Stevenson said.
In addition, it has eliminated the parks and recreation contra account and consolidated certain fire department training and medical costs into the fire commission budget.
Spending highlights include a recommendation to add state educational cost sharing revenue back into the budget.
“We received $412,000 for the current fiscal year and we are anticipated to receive $428,000 for fiscal year 20,” Stevenson said.
While this may sound like very “hopeful” news, Stevenson said, “the rationale for asking to request that we put it back in the budget is to appropriately offset the proposed municipal contribution to the teacher pension sharing in the teachers’ retirement system.”
She added that currently, the proposal is that the cities and towns will contribute 25% of normal costs and for the town of Darien, “the state has calculated that we pay our teachers 15% over the state average.”
“We will be responsible for covering 100% of the delta of that cost contribution between the state average and what we pay our teachers,” she said.
“For the coming year, we will be required to pay $445,000 to the teacher pension, and that will rise to $1.3 million dollars in the state’s fiscal year 2022.”
State funding to Darien will be reduced from currently, $897,000, to $448,000.
Service delivery priorities resulted in a $1.6 million cut to the town administrator’s proposed budget.
In addition, the hiring of the three additional professional tele-communicators to the Darien Police Department would provide 24-7 coverage for the evening shift, and would bring the town’s full compliment of civilian dispatchers to six.
“Sworn personnel must be redeployed to the roles of Middlesex Middle School student resource officer, and to providing a dedicated narcotics officer,” Stevenson said.
Stevenson added that if the budget gets approved, a middle school SRO will be in place by July.
The Board of Selectmen supports the reinstatement of the parks laborer position as well as the continuation of the added position to the public works department.
In addition, it is requesting a “modest” increase in funding for the blight review officer, Stevenson said. “The blight review officer has had to address 50 issues this year so far,” she said. “When the blight ordinance was drafted, it assumed he would have had to address 12 cases every year.”
The town was able to repurpose a police vehicle for the fire marshal’s office, which is worth $60,000.
In addition, the town did not support the full funding for the Short Lane improvements.
According to Board of Finance Chairman Jon Zagrodzky, the board has already begun its own review effort.
“This year, in an effort to simplify and reduce redundancy, we are first meeting with Town Administrator Kate Buch to seek answers to our questions about the Board of Selectmen budget, rather than going to department heads first,” he said.
In terms of meetings, at the next one, called a statutory meeting, residents can make public comments on the budget. This will begin at 6:30 p.m. March 12 at Darien Town Hall.
Four budget work sessions are planned: March 26, April 2, 4, and 9, and a final mill rate vote is set for the April 11 Board of Finance meeting. “Our vote on April 11 marks the hand-off to the RTM, which will have the final vote on the budget,” Zagrodzky said.