Fairfield mends wounds of state budget cuts
Town officials have finished tweaking Fairfield’s budget for the current year in the wake of state budget cuts, and First Selectman Mike Tetreau said it wasn’t as bad as it could have been.
But, he warned, next year likely means a much tougher discussion. “Next year, it will have to be a very long discussion on how much do we make up by raising taxes, and how much do we make up by cutting services,” Tetreau said.
The town’s $293.5 million spending plan, and a tax rate of 25.45 mills, was adopted in May, prior to General Assembly action on the state budget. The tax rate would only have fully funded the town’s budget if all of the anticipated $8.5 million in state revenue was received.
Cuts to the Educational Cost Sharing and sales tax revenue, in addition to uncertainty about motor vehicle tax receipts and what might happen to PILOT funds, amounted to the $4 million deficit, Tetreau said.
He said $3.5 million is attributed to ECS and sales tax revenue sharing cuts. In addition, Tetreau said, a problem on the state level regarding motor vehicle tax bills could mean about $400,000 less in car tax revenue. Lists sent by the Department of Motor Vehicles to tax assessors had many vehicles listed in error, and apparently also listed cars made in 1995 as being 2015 models.
“So, we had roughly $4 million we want to make up,” the first selectman said. “We had a very good year, financially, in fiscal ’16, and (board of finance chairman) Tom Flynn suggested since we had a surplus, we carry it over to help us in fiscal year ’17.”
The surplus on the expense side from fiscal year ’16 — money that was budgeted but not spent by June 30 — comes to about $1.4 million, Tetreau said. Another $800,000 is expected to come from the Board of Education’s internal service fund, which covers health care claims. Tetreau said that money won’t be needed because of better experience in health insurance claims, and the fact that school district employees are moving to a new health plan.
Officials were able to take $400,000 from senior tax relief, because fewer seniors signed up this year, Tetreau said, and reduce legal fees because only 40 property owners have decided to take their assessment appeals to court.
The last step in the process, the first selectman said, was to sit down with department heads to find about another $1 million. “This is money we have to hold off on spending on the expense side,” Tetreau said.
The Public Works Department cut $600,000 budgeted for paving and new trucks, while the Recreation Department reduced its spending by $200,000 through a mix of expense cuts and program fee increases. The library also agreed to reduce expenses by $100,000, while the Fire Department will trim its expenses by $70,000.
Meanwhile, Tetreau said, town officials will be waiting for the other shoe to drop. “The other piece for us is that next year, the state will need to cut $2 billion,” he said. “Things we cut this year, we’re not going to get back. We only cut $1 million, but next January or February, we’re going to have to cut more just to get back to this year’s numbers.”
He said he doesn’t expect towns to get any money from sales tax revenue sharing next year. “And I still don’t know what PILOT money is going to be left. ... We were able to dodge a bullet this year.”