Flatto asks for no tax increases
First Selectman Ken Flatto announced Monday that he'll push for no increase in either taxes or budgets for the upcoming fiscal year.
"My conclusion [based on this month's elections] is that the electorate -- not just in Fairfield, but in the region and across the nation -- expressed very strongly its desire to hold the line in spending and not increase taxes," he said.
"As hard as it may be, our job as town leaders is to respect that opinion," he went on. "And as first selectman, I'll take the lead on that."
The current budget is $247,244,779, a 0.71 percent increase from the 2008-09 fiscal year. The current tax rate is 18.90 mills, a 1.72 percent increase from the previous year. Last year, local taxes accounted for roughly 90 percent of the town's revenue.
To hold spending, Flatto said he's not yet sure whether services or jobs will have to be cut in the public sphere. Nor is he sure whether permit fees will have to be raised. He did say, however, that he feels it's not time for new programs or building projects in the schools.
The school population is finally stabilizing, he said, which bodes well for future budgets.
In the past year, the town has shed 14 positions, which accounted for 3 percent of its workforce. These moves will save the town about $1.4 million a year, according to the First Selectman's Web site.
"Our departments are already very lean and we have to sustain public safety," Flatto said. "In my heart of hearts, I believe that town services should be maintained."
He went on, "If having no tax increase means cutting back on some programs, I'll try to offer the public those choices." He added that he'd lay out priorities for cuts.
Next month, the Board of Education will begin drafting its proposed budget for the next fiscal year and the town's department heads will put together proposals that will go before Flatto in January.
The Board of Education currently has a budget of approximately $140 million, which accounts for about 57 percent of the town's spending. Flatto said he's already spoken with the board's chairman, Catherine Albin, and will send a letter to the board next week asking it to ensure no budget increases.
"Hopefully," he said, "it will not be a big shock."
The town's teachers union made a first step in that direction last month when it accepted no pay increase in the first year of its new contact, which will take effect next July.
"We're very grateful to the teachers to not take a pay increase," Flatto said. "That sets the tone and we hope the Board of Education will continue to go down that road."
The town's other six unions also have contracts that expire on June 30. Flatto said a team is already starting to work on negotiating new contracts. He added that some of the benefits union members have enjoyed for the past 10 to 20 years may need to be modified or changed. He did not give specific examples.
Normally, Flatto said, he wouldn't make such announcements until January. But given the recent elections, the state of the economy and the fact that the Board of Education will soon be drafting its budget proposals, he felt it "important to speak my mind now."
The last time the town faced such a daunting budget season was in the early 90s, Flatto said. Then, the challenge was in holding the budget to just 5 percent growth when 10 percent was the norm, he said.
"We want to take a difficult picture and squeeze it," he said of the situation now. "Try to take lemons and make lemonade. That's my pitch."