Finance panel OKs $264M budget with few changes
Updated 11:34 am, Friday, April 1, 2011
The Fairfield Board of Education's budget was unchanged Thursday night as the Board of Finance approved the school spending plan for 2011-12 earlier adopted by the Board of Selectmen without discussion.
An overall budget of $264 million was approved by the finance panel for the new fiscal year, with a $146.5 million share for education.
After its adjustments to the spending package Thursday, the budget bottom line was changed just $6,985.
Like the selectmen earlier in the week, the finance board moved the money it cut from department accounts to the worker's compensation and medical reserve accounts.
Though he declined to provide a number Thursday, Fiscal Officer Paul Hiller said the new tax rate will be higher than the estimated 22.36 mills proposed by First Selectman Kenneth Flatto. The current mill rate is 19.27, but when adjusted for the recent townwide property revaluation, that rate is 21.45.
The financiers' fast-moving budget meeting got bogged down at the very beginning when discussion focuses on the salary for the first selectman's position, and again at the end when they wrestled with whether to look for another $127,000 in cuts or increase the estimated tax collection rate to bring the expense and revenue sides of the budget in balance.
When the salary discussion began, Vice Chairman Robert Bellitto Jr., Michael Tetreau and Kevin Kiley recused themselves and left the room. Bellitto, a Republican, and Democrat Tetreau have said they expect to run for first selectman in November; Kiley's name has also been mentioned as a possible Republican candidate. Flatto will be leaving the job at the end of the month to take a job with Gov. Dannel Malloy's administration.
Chairman Thomas Flynn said the charter indicates the salary level for first selectman should be set by the Board of Selectmen, and authorized by the Board of Finance through the budget process. However, he said, the selectmen in the past have not been involved. Flatto said the practice has been followed for about 30 years.
But an even bigger issue in the board members' discussion proved to be the meaning of the word "compensation." Flynn said the charter specifically uses the word "compensation" when referring to the first selectman's pay, but "salary" when referring to the town clerk's pay. To him, he said, compensation includes not only the salary, but also benefits such as medical insurance and pension.
The goal is to have the next first selectman have a defined contribution plan, such as a 401K, for retirement rather than a defined benefits plan, like the existing pension.
A two-page letter from Town Attorney Richard Saxl and Assistant Town Attorney Eileen Kennelly didn't help clear the confusion, while Flatto said no area community has the chief elected official's extra benefits set by town boards. The attorneys said the town charter requires all full-time employees, except police and firefighters, to participate in the town's pension plan.
The practice in Fairfield has been for the first selectman to receive the same level of benefits that municipal department heads receive.
Ultimately, the finance board approved no increase for each of the first two years for the first selectman, the two other selectmen and town clerk over the course of their next four-year term, and then a 3 percent increase for the third and fourth years. The officials' current salaries are: first selectman, $127,620; the selectmen, $11,000, and the town clerk, $89,905.