Fairfield selectmen OK budget, but call out state
FAIRFIELD — While there was little fanfare in the unanimous approval of the town budget Wednesday evening, the Board of Selectmen was also unanimous in a strong chastisement of the state.
The board is now sending a $317,560,021 budget to the Board of Finance, representing an overall increase of just over 4 percent — or $12.4 million — from the current overall budget of $305.2 million.
“I think this is a very reasonable budget to put forward,” First Selectman Mike Tetreau said.
Fairfield’s current $305.2 million budget represented a 2.24 percent increase over fiscal year 2018, which was approved at approximately $298.5 million.
A mill rate of 26.95 will be retained next fiscal year, if the budget is approved, again resulting in a 2.24 percent tax increase.
“That’s approximately a $206-per-year increase for the median taxpayer,” Tetreau said, noting they had not budgeted for the possibility of having to take on approximately $700,000 in teacher pension costs, should the state demand it.
“We are not accounting for any transfer in state pension costs for the teachers,” he said. Following a meeting with the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities, it was “just too early in the process to know” if that mandate would come through, he added.
Selectman Christopher Tymniak said to include the amount would have sent a message to Hartford that the town was “prepared and willing to handle this, which we are not.”
Instead, he said, the town needs to “fight tooth and nail” to keep this new cost off its plate.
“Passing it off to the municipalities in this manner in which they’re doing it is the wrong precedent,” he said.
“I am adamantly against it,” he said, predicting there would be lawsuits filed across the state if it is approved.
“I think this is going to be a long, drawn-out battle,” Tymniak said, “and I want the town of Fairfield to fight it every step of the way.”
Selectman Edward Bateson concurred.
“They’re just pushing their problems down to us. ... If there was ever a time to stand up and put a line in the sand, I think this is it,” he said.
Tymniak also cautioned that the Board of Education — which will get a 5 percent increase next year with its approved budget of $182.3 million — needs to reel in spending going forward.
“The Board of Education needs to look at the rising increase to its percentage each year. ... It’s on an unsustainable path right now, particularly since we have declining enrollment,” he said.
“I’d like more cooperation,” he said, from the Board of Education, “with a real defined effort to have that increase come down.”
“I don’t take lightly voting on a $317-million budget,” said Tymniak, who opined that they were “hamstringed” by a tight deadline to get their vote completed and would have liked to look closer at particulars.
“I agree with everything that Chris said,” Bateson said. “With a budget this large, so many thoughts are going through my head, (but) with the forces that are at play, (this) is the best we can do in this scenario.”
He, too, called the school budget “unsustainable,” and expressed concern that owing to many unknown variables, the school budget could jump to a 5 or 6 percent increase next year.
“What are we going to do then?” he asked.
“We need to start planning (and) restructuring how we deliver these services — the Board of Education needs to,” Bateson said. “It’s not gonna be pretty.”
“I think I agree with a lot of the points made here,” Tetreau said, noting new costs caused some of the town’s headaches, particularly with recycling.
“The big thing in this budget that I’m very concerned about, again, again (is) where we have unfunded mandates coming from the state of Connecticut,” Tymniak said. “I’d like to have a do-no-harm reliable number coming from the state.”