The decision by Eileen Kennelly, a former assistant town attorney, to accept a job in the town's Human Resources Department could help close a potential budget shortfall for town legal work in the next fiscal year.

Kennelly is now the town's risk manager, filling a position that opened after the retirement of Roxann D'Ambrosio, and her $80,000 salary is being paid out of the Human Resources Department's budget. As an assistant town attorney, Kennelly was paid $91,000 a year out of the Legal Services' budget. While Kennelly's salary is lower in her new position, she no longer has to pay health insurance or Social Security because she is now a town employee, while she was considered a consultant in the job of assistant town attorney, according to the town's finance and human resources departments.

First Selectman Michael Tetreau said Monday that Kennelly had applied for the risk manager's job and was the most qualified person who wanted it. "The position was open for six months," Tetreau said.

Tetreau said Kennelly's departure as an assistant town attorney wasn't related to the town trying to save money in the Legal Services' budget, but the decision not to hire someone to fill Kennelly's former position is an effort to save money. "The plan at the moment is to not do that, in terms of not getting somebody full time involved in it. The town's legal budget is almost $200,000 less than what we asked for," Tetreau said. "Her decision to go over (to the Human Resources Department) was separate from that. The decision not to replace her was part of cost savings."

Tetreau had requested a Legal Services' budget of $703,000 for the 2012-13 fiscal year, which begins July 1, an increase of 30 percent over the approved budget of $540,000 this year. The Representative Town Meeting, however, approved a new budget of $540,000 for legal services, a reduction that had been made by the Board of Finance.

The increase to $703,000 was sought by the first selectman because of expired contracts with unions representing town employees that have to be negotiated and appeals filed by residents challenging recent property assessments in court.

"We're going to work to minimize our legal costs as much as we can, but we have contracts to resolve and we're going through the tax appeal process at the same time," Tetreau said. "This (next fiscal) year is definitely going to be a difficult task to minimize our legal costs as much as we're being asked to." Tetreau said Kennelly's legal background and skills could help the town in her new position as risk manager by helping to avoid hiring outside legal counsel for some of the work in the Human Resources Department.

In addition to the reduction in the proposed Legal Services' budget, the RTM had cut $850,000 from the proposed budget for the town's contingency account, from which the cost of new labor contract settlements is typically paid. The cut dropped the contingency account for 2012-13 from $1.01 million, the amount approved by the Board of Finance, to $238,517, a decision Town Fiscal Officer Paul Hiller called "financial suicide."

Andrew Brophy is a freelance writer.