A $286.7 million municipal spending package was backed by the Board of Selectmen for the 2014-15 fiscal year, with few changes from the budget proposed by First Selectman Michael Tetreau, after about two hours of discussion Tuesday.
While there were cuts and additions made throughout the budget accounts, there was an overall net increase was $42,009, which would mean no change in the projected 2.67 percent tax increase for the fiscal year starting July 1. The Board of Finance will deliberate on the budget proposal when it meets at 7:30 p.m. Thursday in the Board of Education administrative offices on Kings Highway.
The selectmen made no additional cuts to Board of Education's $156.2 million budget, though some parents have been advocating for restoration of the $800,000 cut by Tetreau. The current school budget is $151.1 million, while the town's operating budget is $85,503,506 with $15,156,253 for retiree benefits and $26,614,186 for debt service.
Selectman Kevin Kiley tried to reduce the projected tax increase a bit by proposing that the $2.3 million contingency account be cut by $275,000, but did not get support from Tetreau or Selectman Cristin McCarthy Vahey.
"I think we've done a good job of balancing out both sides of the equation," Kiley said, "but I'm still not pleased about the tax increase."
He said his proposed contingency reduction would trim the tax increase to about 2.57 percent. "I think it's important to walk away from this table with a lower tax rate than when we walked in," Kiley said. "I think there's room in contingency."
As it now stands, the 2.67 percent tax increase would mean a new tax rate of 24.57 mills compared to the current 23.93.
The contingency account is used to fund unexpected expenses, as well as contract settlements with union workers that are reached during the year.
"I think that's the fine line," Tetreau said of the Kiley proposal, and added that he worries that if money is taken from the contingency account each year, "it gets too easy to do."
Vahey said the Board of Finance had indicated that it wants to have a conversation regarding the future use of the budget's contingency account. "I applaud your effort and thought," she said to Kiley, "but I would probably prefer to see that conversation happen before supporting this motion."
Kiley also tried to add back $25,000 that had been cut by Tetreau from the $350,000 town allocation for the Pequot Library. He said it appeared the privately operated library is the only nonprofit to have its town funding cut, although Tetreau said that was not accurate and funding would be reduced for two others.
"I think Pequot provides a valuable resource to our community," Tetreau said. However, he said, reductions need to be made to the municipal budget, and the town's own libraries funding requests were cut.
"It's in line with some of the cuts all our other libraries have taken," agreed Vahey.
The selectmen did agree to cut $250,000 from health insurance because of bid renewals; $47,613 from the IT department for a phone and communications consultant; $40,000 for hydrants and water, and $3,940 to reflect the actual salary paid the first selectman's chief of staff.
But the board also added $50,000 for tax revaluation; $35,507 for a part-time accountant; $24,450 for FairTV; $256,100 for a school security unit in the Police Department; $31,086 for electricity; $59,121 for part-time positions in the Health Department, and $30,435 for a part-time senior center director.
After the budget was adopted, Vahey said the town needs to consider affordability not only as it affects the next budget, but future budgets. "We all share in this responsibility to one another," she said. "Our taxpayers have diverse needs and we're trying to do the right thing for all of them."
Though the projected tax increase would be more than Kiley wants, he said the budget is a "good balance of services expected and required by our citizens and our ability to pay."
"We're moving in the right direction," Tetreau said. "We are a service business, a service organization that provides services to about 60,000 residents."