In selectmen's first review of '16 spending plans, few questions arise
Published 7:35 am, Tuesday, March 31, 2015
The Board of Selectmen began its review of the proposed fiscal 2016 budget Monday, going quickly through the thick budget book and asking a few questions in preparation for Tuesday's vote on the $291 million spending package.
But even though there were few questions for town department heads Monday didn't mean there won't be more questions Tuesday.
The largest annual share of municipal spending -- the Board of Education budget at $160.8 million, a 3.29 percent proposed increase over the current $155.7 million budget -- escaped without any inquiries from the selectmen Monday.
"As much as we ask, or don't ask, questions doesn't preclude us from asking any questions at tomorrow's session," First Seletman Michael Tetreau said.
The board meets at 3:30 p.m. Tuesday in Sullivan-Independence Hall to continue its deliberations.
Chief Fiscal Officer Bob Mayer said some adjustments made after Tetreau put together his initial spending proposal will have a positive net impact of about $84,000, and drop the proposed tax rate increase from 1.64 to 1.52 mills. That change would decrease the median tax increase of $140 by about $12, Selectman Kevin Kiley estimated.
One of the changes made was to the grand list, Mayer said. Officials had estimated that there could be a decrease in taxable property after the Board of Assessment Appeals finished its hearings of about $19 million, based on the previous year. However, the change this year is only $8 million, Mayer said.
"That's just an example of how some of the conservative estimates were worked into the budget," Tetreau said. He said work done by the pension board, adjusting funds and making sure the $350 million in pensions funds are "invested in the right places" has also helped lower projected spending.
"We see that pay-off when we see the positive experience we have here," Tetreau said.
Kiley did raise questions about two new positions included in the budget proposal -- a part-time wetlands enforcement officer in the Conservation Department and a full-time accountant in the Finance Department.
The enforcement officer would be paid a $31,004 salary. At the moment, the department does not have a director, following Thomas Steinke's retirement last September. Kiley questioned whether it wouldn't make more sense to wait until there is a new director on board to let that person decide the best way to used the department's resources.
Tetreau said a new director is expected to start in May and the enforcement officer, if approved, could not be hired before July 1. He said they would like to have the director have a chance to see if the part-time position will be effective in clearing up the department's backlog. "We'd look to our new director to help answer that and guide us," he said.
The accountant's position carries a $62,008 annual salary.
"Do you have any flexibility with the timing?" Kiley asked. Mayer said they could defer filling the position for several months following the July 1 start of the new fiscal year.
"I'm not anticipating it will be a quick hire," Mayer said.