Town administrator presents flat budget for 2018-19 fiscal year to Board of Selectmen

Facing prolonged uncertainty at the state level and a new federal tax code, Darien Town Administrator Kate Buch has proposed a flat budget for the upcoming fiscal year at the request of the Board of Selectmen. The town administrator’s budget requests $45,980,169 for the 2018-19 fiscal year and will be reviewed by the Board of Selectmen over the course of the next two weeks.

The town’s operational budget represents about a quarter of Darien’s annual spending, funding town departments, emergency personnel and the Darien Library, among other essential services. In comparison, the Darien Public School system accounts for roughly two-thirds of the overall budget. With the town no longer expecting any state grant support, leaders on both sides are working to ensure the current level of Darien’s public services are maintained.

Buch said one of the driving factors in this year’s budget is understanding which town services are essential, and using performance markers to understand which departments could most benefit from investment. Though the selectmen have the ability to adjust any individual line item in the town’s operational budget, Buch said she hoped this would not be necessary on the already flat proposal.

One of the hardest decisions, she explained, was choosing whether to hire three new civilian dispatchers to work with the Darien Police Department. The department launched the program last year to help get trained officers off the phone and onto larger responsibilities while retaining staff with local knowledge. Chief Ray Osborne told Buch expanding the program with three more dispatchers would allow better scheduling flexibility as the implementation continues.

However, as Board of Finance Chairman Jon Zagrodzky has pointed out several times this year, new hires are a long term cost driver due to investment in pensions and benefits. While Buch estimated the annual cost of each dispatcher to be about $100,000, she chose to include the chief’s request in the budget and delay the hiring process until the Spring.

One of the few increases in the budget is due to the additional staff brought into the town’s building department and fire marshal’s office last year as Darien prepares for major redevelopment. The town will also be contributing more funding to pension and retiree medical costs after the town’s new actuary discovered a mathematical error in calculations from years prior.

Capital expenses are down but ongoing projects to improve sidewalks, maintain town buildings and restore emergency service vehicles and equipment are continuing. In an effort to create new efficiencies, Buch also proposed a small change to how the town handles parking records and fines, shifting those responsibilities away from the police department and adding hours to the Town Hall receptionist.

During their review process the Selectmen will review each department’s funding requests and consider potential changes. Following their vote, current scheduled for Feb. 13, the town’s Board of Finance will perform their own review of both the Selectman and Board of Education budgets for approval and submission to the Representative Town Meeting, Darien’s legislative body. Members of the Board of Finance and the RTM’s Finance & Budget Committee regularly sit in on budget meetings with the Selectmen and Board of Education to provide feedback as the review process progresses.

You can find a schedule of the Board of Selectmen’s budget meetings, which will run until Feb. 13, on the town’s website along with the town administrator’s budget and presentation explaining the document.