RTM may delay budget vote until state aid cuts are settled
FAIRFIELD — Representative Town Meeting members Monday searched for ways the town’s budget could be reduced if Gov. Dannel Malloy’s proposed state spending plan — cutting about $5 million in aid — is adopted.
The governor’s proposal, which would cut all of the town’s $3.4 million Educational Cost Sharing grant, as well as an additional $1.6 million expected from sales tax revenue, however, is not winning support from either side of the political aisle at the General Assembly. A budget proposal Monday from Republicans in the state legislative body, would restore all of the town’s ECS funding; a proposal from state Democrats, who hold the legislative majority, was expected later in the week.
“We know the governor’s proposal is not moving forward,” First Selectman Michael Tetreau said, but local officials still don’t know how much could eventually be cut in revenue allotted to the town from the state.
The town’s 2016-17 budget — standing at $293.5 million — has already been approved by the Boards of Selectmen and Finance, and the RTM is scheduled to vote on the spending package next Monday. “My recommendation, given that, is that this body consider postponing the vote on our budget until we have that information,” Tetreau said.
If the RTM were to postpone action on the budget, that vote would come up at next Monday’s session.
Tetreau said local officials need to know the total of any state aid cut in order to help determine how to spread that reduction among accounts in the town and school sides of the budget.
He said there is no legal impediment to postponing the RTM’s annual budget vote.
“Our board did meet, as requested,” Board of Education Chairman Phil Dwyer said, to review the potential loss of ECS funding. He said the panel remains convinced the $163.3 million education budget is financially responsible, as it now stands. “In our minds, right now, there is no room for cuts without making drastic reductions to programs.”
Board of Finance Chairman Tom Flynn said his panel also stands behind the budget it recommended to the RTM. “We thought it was prudent and worked well,” Flynn said, adding that the finance board is not willing to increase the mill rate to make up any deficit that might be caused by a decrease in state revenue.
The $293.5 million spending package approved by the finance board in late March would increase overall spending 0.79 percent above the current budget.
“We believe it sets a bad precedent if we increase taxes after the boards have voted,” Flynn said. The mill rate is set by the Board of Finance after the RTM adopts a budget for the new fiscal year, which starts July 1.
Mary McCullough, R-1, wanted to know when Tetreau knew about the possible $3.5 million ECS loss. “I learned about this in an email on April 12,” McCullough said. “Did you learn about it earlier than that, Mr. Tetreau?”
Tetreau said he learned of the elimination of Fairfield’s ECS grant at the same time RTM members did, when Malloy released his budget-balancing proposal.
Carol Way, R-5, cited Tetreau’s remarks that he has since met with state House Speaker Brendan Sharkey. “Did you also meet with my state representative from the 133rd District, and when did you know about the vote with the Appropriations Committee?” Way asked, prompting objections from Democrats on the RTM that her question violated the body’s rules about not impugning someone else.
“I didn’t hear any impugning,” said Moderator Pam Iacono, a fellow Republican.
Way was referring to state Rep. Cristen McCarthy Vahey, a Democrat, who as a member of the Appropriations Committee voted for a state budget proposal that included a $1.2 million cut to Fairfield’s ECS share.
In a Facebook post, Vahey explained her vote, and promised to continue to fight for funding for the town. “A committee vote is just that, a committee vote. The budget continues to be a work in progress and my vote in committee was to further the process, knowing that it is an ongoing negotiation.”
RTM member Michael Herley, R-10, wanted to know how the ECS funding factors into development of the school budget. The ECS money goes into the town’s general fund, and not directly to the school district. It is meant to help cover the costs of unfunded state mandates, according to Dwyer.
“When we’re looking at our operating budget, we do not take into consideration the ECS grant,” Dwyer said.
Peter Ambrose, R-1, asked that since the finance board has indicated it would not increase the mill rate more than already planned, would Tetreau be averse to talking to municipal unions about taking furlough days to help accommodate any state aid cuts.
“We need to know a target number,” Tetreau said, adding, at this point, nothing is off the table. When officials have a definite number on state aid for the new fiscal year, he said, then they can consider all their options.