EDITOR'S NOTE: The writer is the Republican majority leader of the Fairfield Representative Town Meeting.
The Fairfield Republican Representative Town Meeting caucus would like to thank the Board of Education, First Selectman, Board of Selectmen, Board of Finance, all Department Heads and especially Fiscal Officer Bob Mayer and Town Budget Director Linda Gardiner for their tireless work over the past several months.
On the night of May 5, the Republican caucus overwhelmingly approved the town's fiscal 2014-15 budget. Republican-sponsored initiatives adopted that evening slowed the growth in government spending and saved the taxpayer $1.1 million. The budget approved by the RTM carries an effective tax rate increase of 1.96 percent, which was formally ratified by the Board of Finance on May 8 when it set the new tax rate.
Your Republican-led RTM has taken notable steps to temper the tax increases over recent years, and this is the first time in five years that the tax-rate increase will be below 2 percent. This is not to say that more work does not need to be done, particularly as it relates to reining in the costs associated with our long-term liabilities, i.e., health care and pensions.
These are the top-level budget details achieved for the coming fiscal year:
The Fairfield Police Department carried one of the largest approved percentage increases at 5.9 as we approved the implementation of the school safety initiative that the Fairfield Police Department will be rolling out in the coming year.
Funds for the Board of Education were approved with an increase of 3 percent, or $4.5 million, in the next budget year. First Selectman Mike Tetreau reduced the board's original request by $800,000, and the RTM further reduced the BOE's budget by an additional $500,000. Superintendent of Schools David Title presented a plan to the BOE to incorporate these reductions into its budget and these reductions were characterized by Superintendent Title as having "minimal impact" on the classrooms. We want to thank the superintendent for his efforts in this regard, and appreciate his continued pursuit of operational efficiencies and academic excellence.
Public Works saw a minimal increase of 1.9 percent, or $286,000. The Republican-led RTM continued to fund road paving at a dollar volume equal to last year's spending, as we were forced to redirect taxpayer funds again to shore up the town's surplus "rainy day" fund and tracking, budgeting and accounting for the ever-volatile healthcare costs of our employees.
Unfortunately, our contractually guaranteed benefits to retirees spiked again at an alarming 10.9 percent increase. The RTM majority continues to support the first selectman in our joint belief that the RTM needs to be presented with labor agreements that will minimize our long-term liabilities. Labor agreements presented to the RTM that continue to generate 10 percent incremental costs for retiree benefits are simply unsustainable over the long term. More work needs to be done in this area.
Every other sector of the 2014-15 RTM approved budget carried a virtual zero-percent increase.
The Republican Caucus would like to recognize our colleagues across the aisle on the RTM -- despite their general lack of support this budget cycle to reduce spending levels -- and ask they join us in future budget deliberations to achieve a more affordable Fairfield.
As we successfully demonstrated this budget cycle -- and with the previous four --fiscal restraint can be exercised without adversely affecting services. Moreover, insinuation that the fiscal discipline instilled by the RTM will be ruinous to our town's character, reputation and overall attractiveness is simply divisive and without merit.
In fact, the Republican caucus is proud to have presented and adopted over $5 million in budget reductions over the past five years. The compounded effect of these reductions will be incrementally beneficial to taxpayer for years to come. In the meantime, our school district continues to win awards, our public safety continues to be recognized as one of the region's best and our Public Works Department has successfully dealt with two hurricanes, three blizzards and a multitude of other infrastructure improvements.
We thank town residents for their continued support, and we will continue to work tirelessly to keep Fairfield affordable for all so that we can make the necessary investments in our schools, public safety, public works infrastructure and other expected resources and services for the benefit of our community.