Late state budget means no paving, positions unfilled, library hours cut
FAIRFIELD — The town boards approved a budget for the current year that banked on about $5 million in state revenue.
With a state budget still nowhere near adoption, First Selectman Mike Tetreau has been taking steps behind the scenes to mitigate that $5 million hole in a $298 million municipal budget.
“I’ve implemented a ‘strategic’ hiring freeze,” Tetreau said, adding that doesn’t mean there have been no new hires. “However, DPW needs a mechanic, and since we’re not getting DPW any new trucks, we need to hire that mechanic.”
The library, Tetreau said, has eight open positions, but for now, the only one being filled is a circulation clerk. Tetreau expects to announce shortened library hours by the end of this week.
As of July 1, a capital expenditure freeze has been instituted.
“There’s been no new paving since then,” Tetreau said. “We’ll patch roads, but we’re not doing new paving.”
Tetreau said these things are being done in order to “maximize flexibility” as they await action on a spending plan by the state. During its budget deliberations, the Representative Town Meeting cut $825,000 from the contingency account that had been put there because of the state uncertainty.
“I’ve asked departments not to spend any money they don’t have to spend,” the first selectman said. “If you can buy a month’s supply, versus six months, even though it’s been authorized, do that.”
In June, Tetreau asked all his department heads to talk to three other similar department heads in other towns to find ways to lower costs or increase revenues. Now, he said, he will be sitting down with the department heads to see if there are any changes they can implement.
“We have the lowest per capita expense per resident than the four towns with lower mill rates,” Tetreau said. “However, I still think we can improve.”
Even if a state budget is passed, Tetreau said he still believes the town will find itself with a $2 to $4 million gap, based on which version of the budget passes. He said he thinks the town will end up getting some state revenue, but not as much as the town budgeted.
“We’re trying to mitigate the impact, but when we’re going to get this severely cut, our residents will see cuts in services or in hours town buildings are open.”
Board of Finance Chairman Thomas Flynn said he agrees with Tetreau’s actions, but added there are other things he would do to “proactively” address the issues.
There must be, Flynn explained, economic development initiatives to diversify revenue streams and bring in more commercial revenues, as well as exploration into more public-private partnerships in cases where services can be “more efficiently and effectively delivered by third parties.”
The finance chairman would like a benchmarking study on the fees collected by the town to make sure services are provided at market rates and a review of all town services to better understand what services a town should and should not be providing.
Flynn also called for a formal review of all department operations. “There can be no sacred cows,” he said, and the town should assess whether there are any functions being duplicated by departments that could instead be consolidated.
Tetreau said when the town’s next budget season begins later this year, the budget will be put together with the assumption that Fairfield will be receiving no state revenue.
“This will make it very difficult the next two or three years,” Tetreau said, but said it will be necessary. “We’ll be planning for no state aid and separating ourselves from the state’s fiscal problems.”
As for now, the first selectman said they are doing everything they can “to avoid layoffs and major disruptions to services.”