RTM OKs $305 million spending plan; makes no cuts
FAIRFIELD — The $305 million fiscal year 2019 budget was approved by the legislative body Monday night, virtually unchanged since the day it was proposed by the first selectmen.
There was no drama at Penfield Pavilion, unlike in some past years, and the entire meeting was done in 17 minutes. Some Democratic members stood to voice their support of the spending plan, or draw attention to a particular department, and four Republicans cast “No” votes.
One of those Republicans was Alex Durrell, R-3, who said later, “I am finding the cost of living in Fairfield — and in Connecticut — to be unsustainable.”
Joining Durrell in his “No” vote were Deputy Minority Leader Michael Herley, R-10, Peter Ambrose, R-1, and Edward Bateson, R-1.
For Herley, his vote was based on what wasn’t in the budget.
“I voted against Mike Tetreau’s annual budget because it doesn’t adequately invest in our roadways at a time when local traffic congestion is impeding economic growth and hurting the quality of life for those who live and work in Fairfield,” Herley said.
The approved budget, which saw minor adjustments bringing the tax increase to 2.36 percent, allocates $173 million to the Board of Education and $131.6 million for the town side. Barring any decision to use surplus funds to lower the tax rate when the Board of Finance meets Thursday, the tax rate will be 26.43 mills. Homeowners pay $26.43 for every $1,000 of assessed value for their property.
First Selectman Mike Tetreau has attributed the higher tax increase to a loss in state revenue.
“I’m very happy to vote in favor of this budget,” Karen Wackerman, D-7, said. “This was a tough year in which to create a budget,” she said and thanked the administration for its work in putting together the spending plan. It preserves services, Wackerman said, while at the same time is fiscally responsible.
Sharon Pistilli, D-3, said she thought the Public Works Department did a great job in its budget, but noted that there were “substantial” reductions to paving and capital purchases, and that is of concern to her and others.
But Bateson said the budget “still does not incorporate, reflect and address the economic realities of Fairfield and the state.”
Bateson, who was unsuccessful in the special election for the Board of Selectmen, criticized Tetreau for not having a “real plan” to change the town hall “mentality of tax and spend.” He said long-term plans for paving and heavy vehicle replacement were shelved and raises given to teachers “with no significant changes to employee health care contributions.”
“Headcount has stayed steady, and departmental operations have stayed the same with no apparent efforts to reduce long-term costs,” Bateson said.
Ambrose said too many of his friends are struggling to pay their bills on fixed incomes, and sale signs are “popping up like dandelions in my district.” He said the grand list must be increased but not on the shoulders of residential taxpayers.
With a property revaluation slated for 2020, Ambrose said based on depressed real estate values in most of the town, “simple math dictates that taxes will rise to offset the declining grand list.”