Efforts to keep conservation position fails as Fairfield’s proposed budget moves to finance board

Photo of Katrina Koerting
File photo of Brenda Kupchick during a meeting with the Connecticut Post Editorial Board, in Bridgeport, Conn. Oct. 9, 2019.

File photo of Brenda Kupchick during a meeting with the Connecticut Post Editorial Board, in Bridgeport, Conn. Oct. 9, 2019.

Ned Gerard / Hearst Connecticut Media file photo

FAIRFIELD — The selectmen sent the nearly $335.5 million budget proposal on to the finance board with few changes this week.

The biggest modifications came on the revenue side with about $315,000 added due to parks and recreation fees and real estate estimates. Only minor changes were made on the expense side from what First Selectwoman Brenda Kupchick had presented.

An effort to restore a conservation position failed, despite a change.org petition signed by hundreds of town residents.

The budget is about $18 million, or 5.7 percent, more than the current allocations and includes nearly $192.1 million for the schools, $30.4 million for shared education expenses and $113 million for the town.

Kupchick said the budget accounts for an unprecedented year due to COVID, as well as accomplishes some of the goals she announced when she assumed the office, including making the government more efficient, largely under her reorganization effort.

Selectwoman Nancy Lefkowitz voted against the budget because she said she didn’t have enough information and opposed certain aspects.

She had proposed reinstating the conservation administrator — which had been eliminated during the reorganization — based on concerns she heard from those connected to conservation efforts in town, such as advocates and members of the conservation commission and sustainable task force.

“The feedback I’m getting is the work is untenable as proposed,” Lefkowitz said, adding that Fairfield sets the standard for conservation in the area.

Residents have also started a change.org petition to restore the conservation position. About 550 people had signed it as of Monday afternoon.

Kupchick said the conservation staffing levels are similar to other towns and she said the selection of a new director along with making the wetlands compliance officer a full-time position make it tenable.

“It can be done and it will be done,” she said.

Selectman Thomas Flynn said he supported Kupchick’s reorganization effort and so Lefkowitz’s proposal failed, as did her effort to try to add $500,000 back into the school’s budget.

Kupchick’s proposal cut the schools’ request by $2 million, which was still $7.5 million more than the current budget. She said new health insurance numbers have come in for the schools and so the schools will be able to use that $500,000 in savings as they see fit. She said in theory this brings the cut down to $1.5 million.

Other things included in Kupchick’s budget are modernizing parts of government with online permitting software, an automated time and attendance system to hold employees accountable and making the conference rooms able to hold virtual meetings.

It also maintains and improves buildings, roads, bridges and technology.

The finance board will consider the budget on Thursday.