Fairfield: No tax increase after RTM cuts an additional $1.1 million
FAIRFIELD — Residents will see no tax rate increase after the Representative Town Meeting cut more spending in the final version of the town budget, which passed earlier this week.
The majority of the $1,117,077 in cuts came from $924,924 in savings from school bus contracts in the Board of Education budget and fuel savings in multiple departments. The RTM also eliminated two vacant positions from the department of public works.
The final budget totaled $317.2 million, less than a $1 million increase from the year before. According to First Selectwoman Brenda Kupchick, the budget is the first in more than three decades to not require a tax rate increase.
“There were significant cuts made to the town side of the budget, and these reductions will present significant challenges to managing the town over the next year,” said Kupchick. “I look forward to working over the coming months to identify ways to improve efficiencies in our government while maintaining the services we are able to offer our residents.”
RTM Majority Leader Jill Vergara, D-7, said the budget process has been “grueling and rewarding.”
“It’s a difficult and challenging time,” Vergara said. “But we’ve met the challenge together. Working across the aisle and building relationships with my Republican colleagues has been really important.”
Vergara said the two parties worked together to lower the tax burden on residents during an economically challenging time. She said the Democratic caucus found the bus contract savings in the budget and, when the Republican caucus took a further look, they found more.
“These proposed reductions that I’m now offering represent the bipartisan package of cuts that both caucuses have worked hard on and have agreed to,” she said.
Minority Leader Pamela Iacono, R-8, said the two groups had a good dialogue and worked for the betterment of Fairfield. Iacono later proposed cutting the public works foreman and maintenance repairman positions from the budget, both of which are currently unoccupied.
The motion did meet some resistance, but ended up passing 30-10, amounting to an additional $192,153 in savings.
A majority of the final discussion during Monday’s meeting was spent on the position of chief administrative officer, currently held by Tom Bremmer. RTM member Marcy Spolyar, D-4, made a motion to discuss whether the body should cut $56,000 in pay and benefits from the position.
“My initial feelings are to cut the position fully,” Spolyar said. “The reason for that is I looked over the position outline... and I found redundancies in every line that was provided with other departments and other positions.”
The position was created in December 2019 by Kupchick, who had recently taken office, by transferring unused funds from other departments.
“I feel that it does not offer anything new to the town and its value at the current $120,000 is not responsible at this point,” Spolyar said. “However, in discussions with my caucus, I understand that it is a difficult time with COVID, and that an extra person at this time would be helpful to the first selectperson.”
Kupchick said it was very apparent to her that the office of first selectperson needed additional staffing. She said Bremmer acts on her behalf and allows her to attend to the many obligations she has that do not take place in town hall, adding that she created the job in the aftermath of the fill pile scandal.
“So, you’re managing the town, but you’re also working with the public on a host of different issues,” Kupchick said, adding that she also had to deal with a public scandal and an ongoing criminal investigation.
She also said she wanted to modernize the town offices, upgrade the tech and give the buildings a facelife.
“Not to be disrespectful, but that takes a lot of extra work to modernize and find efficiencies and to make your town run in a more productive way,” she said. “It’s just simply not possible with all the different responsibilities coming at this office. There are hundreds of requests (and) emails everyday.”
Alex Durrell, R-3, said the position was an important part of the economic development in the town and that cutting the position would be short-sighted.
Bremmer has spent a majority of his time in the office dealing with the coronavirus pandemic, he said.
“We’ve got to think more long term,” he said. If the position doesn’t work, the RTM can consider cutting it, “but give the guy a chance.”
Matt Jacobs, D-3, said he would not support cutting the position and entirely felt the salary was too high. He supported cutting the salary and reconsidering the position next year.
Spolyar eventually rescinded the motion. The Board of Finance is meeting on Thursday to set a mill rate.