Exact state budget impact on Fairfield still cloudy

FAIRFIELD — Board of Finance members said Tuesday they’re will to use the bulk of any surplus from the current budget to help make up the $2.3 million gap in the 2017 spending plan due to cuts in state aid.

But recent action by Gov. Dannel Malloy could mean an even bigger hit to the town’s $293.5 million budget. Malloy used his line item veto on the state budget approved by the General Assembly, which has resulted in about another $22 million in state aid cuts. Where those cuts will fall, however, is unknown.

“I don’t have any definitive information,” First Selectman Mike Tetreau told the board, though he added there are several possible scenarios. The most beneficial to the town, he said, would be if the legislature overrode the governor’s veto. Another, Tetreau said, is that the “wealthy” towns would once again see their Educational Cost Sharing grants zeroed out.

Fiscal Officer Robert Mayer said the town could take the estimated $2 million unspent money from the various line items in the 2016 and transfer it to a special debt service account in the 2017 budget. Then, rather then take $20 million from the general fund to pay toward debt service, the town would take $18 million from the general fund, plus the $2 million that was set aside.

This, Mayer said, would free up $2 million from the general fund to cover the budgeted operational expenses.

“We’re trying to do this to minimize the impact to the taxpayer,” Tetreau said.

“I have some concerns about dumping the money into debt service,” finance member James Walsh said. “Does this board lose authority over how these funds are spent?” Walsh said he voted for this budget and wants to make sure, for example, that the Public Works Department vehicle replacement plan is followed and trucks don’t get cut.

Tetreau said moving the surplus funds to the debt service line means “we will have spent all the other line items as budgeted.

And once a budget is set, and the new fiscal year begins July 1, “Mr. Tetreau tells the department heads what they can spend,” Mayer said.