RTM OKs $291M budget; tax rate to be set Thursday
In what may be a record, the Representative Town Meeting approved a $291 million spending plan for the 2015-16 fiscal year in little more than an hour Monday night, with only five dissenting votes.
There was only one cut proposed at the budget meeting -- $27,985 in benefits for a new position in the Finance Department. The work will instead be done by temporary employees hired on a per job basis. The cut was approved unanimously.
The budget -- which increases spending from the current $284.69 million budget -- means a 1.64 percent tax increase, raising the tax rate to about 24.80 mills from 24.40 mills, an annual increase to median Fairfield households of about $140.
The new budget and tax rate will take effect July 1.
The school budget was not changed -- or was a cut proposed -- from the $161 million forwarded by the finance board. The current school budget is $155.7 million.
While there was scant debate over cuts to the budget, the evening did perhaps give a preview of the upcoming municipal election season.
Chris Tymniak, R-9, was the first to take to the microphone. Tymniak is campaigning for this year's GOP nomination for first selectman. Democrat First Selectman Michael Tetreau is expected to formally announce his run for re-election shortly.
Tymniak extolled the town's virtues and praised its education system, and voiced support not only for the school budget, but also the budgets for police, fire, public works and recreation.
"We have great public safety services," Tymniak said, but added he's concerned that police and firefighters still do not have contracts with the town.
"It creates an uncertainty when it comes to the budget," he said.
As for the Recreation Department, Tymniak said, while the director does a good job managing the budget, "I am, however, frustrated we will spend another summer without Penfield," referring to the beachfront pavilion that has been closed since being damaged by Superstorm Sandy.
Tymniak also said he received information from state Sen. Tony Hwang's office that indicates the town will not be getting the Federal Emergency Management Agency reimbursement it expects for reconstruction of the pavilion.
After being instructed by the moderator to keep his remarks to proposed line item cuts in the budget, Tymniak said, "This budget offers us an opportunity to essentially pass it and move on and kick the hard discussions to the future."
Tetreau, his voice rising at times as he responded, said there several errors in Tymniak's remarks. "The FEMA reimbursement rate has not changed since Penfield was passed," he said, "and Rep. Tymniak does not have any facts, documents or support for that statement, and it also doesn't have anything to do with this budget."
Tymniak had also criticized the fact that the RTM did not get to vote on additional bonding for road paving. Tetreau said bonding rules adopted by the town boards call for paving money to be included in the operating budget, not the non-recurring capital bonding.
And as for suggestions by Tymniak that there are one-time savings in this budget that likely won't be available next year, Tetreau said reductions achieved in municipal pensions and other post-employment benefits, or OPEB, are attributable to work done over the last several years.
"The pension number came down $2 million this year and it will stay roughly at $7 million for the next five years," Tetreau said. Worker's compensation growth, he said, has been slowed because of new safety initiatives, and negotiation by Chief Fiscal Officer Bob Mayer led to savings for the OPEB drug plan, saving about $750,000 annually going forward.
Republican RTM members continued to focus comments on contracts and health-care costs, with Joe Palmer, R-4, saying it's the town's incremental approach to health benefits that places limitations on the school board budget, "not the minor reductions by this body in the past."
Minority Leader Hal Schwartz, D-7, however, noted that the 1.64 percent tax increase is the smallest in the last 15 years.
"I know the Republicans would like to take all the credit," Schwartz said, but said fiscal planning over the last six years is working.