With the Representative Town Meeting poised to begin final budget deliberations Monday, First Selectman Michael Tetreau said Friday that an additional $700,000 could be chopped from the $280 million spending plan for fiscal year 2013-14.
Tetreau held a press conference to announce spending reductions he now recommends because of savings in fuel costs and debt service. In February, Tetreau initially proposed a $287 million budget for the new fiscal year, or 6.38 percent more than current spending. After a review by the Board of Finance, it was trimmed $282.4 million, a 3.94 percent rise.
The first selectman on Friday urged the RTM not to make further cuts in the budget other than his latest recommendations, while he also tried to dispel what he termed rumors or inaccurate statements comparing Fairfield's proposed tax increase to area communities.
The RTM will meet at 7 p.m. Monday in Fairfield Warde High School to vote on the budget.
Should the RTM accept Tetreau's most recent suggested reductions, the projected tax increase would drop from 2.91 percent to 2.78 percent for the fiscal year that starts July 1. The tax increase would be lower except that the RTM expanded the senior tax-relief program, which will boost the budget by $1.3 million.
He said that the Fairfield budget numbers are comparable to towns like Darien, which projects a 3.86 percent tax increase, or Greenwich, which is looking at a 2.75 percent hike. Westport now has a proposed tax increase of about 1.9 percent.
But Tetreau said residents and RTM members need to look at not only what the tax rate is, but how that tax rate is achieved. Fairfield, for example, is following actuaries' recommendations to fully fund the annual recommended contribution (ARC) to post-employment benefits for municipal employees and is not using budget surplus money to offset part of the projected tax hike.
Greenwich, for example, isn't fully funding its ARC to post-employment benefits and is using part of its budget surplus to reduce the tax increase, Tetreau said. Darien fully funds the ARC for both pensions and other retirement benefits, but also uses surplus funds to reduce taxes. In Westport, where ARCs for pensions and other benefits are being fully funded, the town is not using surplus funds to offset the tax rate. However, Westport realized $2.8 million from growth in the grand list.
According to Bureau of Labor statistics supplied by Tetreau, the annual compounded Consumer Price Index for the last 10 years is 2.54 percent. "Our current year tax increase is right on a par with this standard," he said.
Tetreau said five of the six towns he looked at are using surplus funds to offset tax increases. "They are spending at a higher level than they are projecting in current revenues," he said, "or what's called deficit budgeting."
By not using the surplus to fund town operations, Tetreau said, Fairfield is "living within our means." He said the town has fewer employees than it did 10 years ago, and as a result, there are backlogs in permit processing in Conservation and Building departments, while the Department of Public Works is behind on tree maintenance.
To get the budget increase reduced to 2 percent, as some have suggested, would require another $1.9 million in cuts, in addition to the $700,000 recommended by Tetreau.
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