A $291.3 million spending package for 2015-16 -- $213,810 higher than initially proposed by First Selectman Michael Tetreau -- was approved Tuesday by the Board of Selectmen, with a projected 1.64 percent tax increase for the fiscal year that starts July 1.

The three selectmen agreed the budget holds the line on taxes, but doesn't sacrifice public services. Although some cuts were made from Tetreau's, the selectmen added $367,579 to the Board of Education's $160.8 million proposal because of increases in health insurance based on February claims experience. The 2016 school board's recommended budget now totals $161.2 million; current education spending is $155.7 million.

The budget proposal now goes to the Board of Finance, which can cut or increase the package before sending it to the Representative Town Meeting. The RTM, which will vote on a final spending package in May, cannot increase the budget.

"I certainly support this Board of Education budget as presented by Dr. (David) Title," Selectman Kevin Kiley said. "It's a very efficient budget and preserves our excellence in education."

And while the selectmen all agreed, they asked the superintendent if there was any place where the education budget could be cut to make up for the additional health insurance funds.

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Selectmen back new $291.3M budget with 1.64% tax hike

"I wish there were," Title said. "I just can't commit to anything right now." He assured the selectmen that any savings during the school year will be put toward the insurance account.

"I think we all recognize that Dr. Title has been doing a great job putting forth a fiscally responsible budget," Selectman Sheila Marmion said

Kiley had also asked the Department of Public Works if there were any capital purchases that could be cut from the 11 requests totaling $827,050.

After going over the requests, Public Works Director Joseph Michelangelo said all of the major pieces of equipment are needed, but $19,500 brush bucket attachment for a pay loader could be cut. Three of the department's pay loaders already have the brush bucket attachment.

"This has been the department and account for many budgets, as far back as I can remember," Tetreau said of the DPW, that has been turned to first when cuts need to be made. "You guys have been very supportive in saying, `We need it but if you take it away, we'll find a way to get by without it.' " He said he will ask the Board of Finance and Representative Town Meeting "not to reach out to the DPW again" for more spending cuts.

The selectmen also agreed to delay hiring a staff accountant for the Finance Department until October. That will save $21,878.

Tetreau voted for the decrease, but said the department's workload has increased tremendously in recent years, especially with more and more analysis being sought by the finance board and RTM. "I'm not saying the requests are unreasonable, but they are unreasonable at our staffing level," Tetreau said.

The Legal Services budget was cut by $50,000 to $450,000. The additional funding had been added to cover costs from appeals of the soon-to-be-completed property revaluation. Tetreau said property owners will be notified in December of the new assessments, with Board of Assessment Appeal hearings held next March. It likely won't be until much later in 2016 that any unsettled assessment appeals would hit the court system.

As adopted by the selectmen, the 2015-16 budget would mean a new tax rate of 24.80 mills, compared to the current 24.40 mills. On a home assessed at $350,000, the tax bill would increase from $8,540 to $8,680. A home with an assessment of $500,000 would have a new tax bill of $12,400 versus the current $12,200. The tax bill on a home with an assessment of $800,000 would increase from $19,520 to $19,840.

"It's just about where we started," Tetreau said of the overall budget that was approved. "Given that we added $300,000 in, that's a surprisingly good place to be."

Overall, Marmion said, "we've been able to add services and add to some of our department budgets in a solid and proactive way."

It's a budget, Kiley said, that offers value and vision, and a tax increase that is "reasonable and is affordable ... I believe that we have a good budget before us."

"Fairfield is one of the leaders in efficiency," Tetreau said, noting there is more money for paving and library materials, and begun a sidewalk maintenance plan. It is, he noted, the fourth year with a declining tax-increase rate.