Fairfield RTM cuts $1M and approves budget

Photo of Katrina Koerting
Old Town Hall in Fairfield, Conn.

Old Town Hall in Fairfield, Conn.

File photo / File photo

FAIRFIELD — The Representative Town Meeting adopted a $332.3 million budget this week, cutting slightly more than $1 million from the town’s contribution to its standing surplus.

The cut was approved unanimously and was the only change made to the Board of Finance’s recommendation.

New projections for the current year’s surplus is about $4.8 million, which is about $1.6 million more than anticipated when the finance board was setting the budget. At the time, the finance board cut $1.2 million from the planned contribution to surplus, leaving a $1 million contribution instead toward the reserves.

“This means that the town overtaxed the people by $5 million this year,” RTM member Jill Vergara said, adding that keeping the figure as proposed would be another over-taxation.

Other members said the surplus was largely because of a better tax collection rate than budgeted, something the finance board is considering adjusting which in turn could bring the mill rate down.

The finance board will set the tax rate Thursday. Based on the current budget, there will be a 0.78 percent mill rate increase. But board Chairman James Brown said the tax increase could drop if the town no longer needed to take a conservative collection approach used because of the pandemic.

The overall budget is about $15 million more than the current year and includes $192.1 million for the Board of Education, which is $2 million less than what the school board approved but $7.5 million more than the current year.

The budget passed 23 to 17, with some members calling the overall increase from the current year “huge” and others saying it’s not bad when compared with other budgets following revaluations or when last year’s rare zero percent increase is factored in.

Some members proposed cuts to the contingency amount, all of which failed.

“We have cushions upon cushions that I don’t think we need excess in that account,” said Bill Gerber, a District 2 member.

But town officials said the current contingency amount is based off salary estimates and was agreed to by the town’s outside auditor.

The finance board had already cut $100,000 from contingency, which was based around discussions that happened largely in executive session about salary reserves.

One of the failed contingency proposals was to cut $80,000 labeled for salary increases for department heads, many of whom did not get a raise last year.

Another failed proposal was to cut the $60,000 for the town website redesign.

“I believe this is not the year to spend money on the website redesign,” said Alice Kelly, a District 4 member.

Some members said residents were still struggling financially because of the pandemic and urged town officials to use surplus or grant money to cover the cost instead.

First Selectwoman Brenda Kupchick said removing the item would save each resident less than a penny, but keeping the money available would be key in getting information out to the public, especially in this digital age and amid the pandemic.

“The entire website is just antiquated,” she said.