The Representative Town Meeting, after a marathon session Monday, approved a $278 million town budget for 2013-14, trimming the tax increase to 2.4 percent from 2.64 percent for the fiscal year starting July 1.

The 41-8 vote came just after midnight, and the cuts made over the previous four hours included a $500,00 reduction to Board of Education spending, $250,000 to the road-paving budget and another $250,000 to the budget's contingency account.

The RTM also approved reductions recommended by First Selectman Michael Tetreau of $500,000 to debt service and $171,970 for fuel expenditures.

There were unsuccessful attempts to cut pay for a librarian from the Fairfield Public Library staff to save $79,000 and to trim $57,000 from the town's $350,000 contribution to the private Pequot Library.

The Board of Finance plans to set the tax rate for the new budget when it meets at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday in Sullivan-Independence Hall.

The bulk of the cuts were proposed by Republicans on the RTM, and votes often fell along party lines.

More Information

FAIRFIELD BUDGET, BY THE NUMBERS
After months of reviews, and hours of discussion and debate by town boards, the overall budget for Fairfield's 2013-14 fiscal year was adopted by the Representative Town Meeting. Here are the final allocations approved for some of the largest town departments:
• Board of Education: Requested $155.8 million; Board of Finance recommended $151.6 million and $151.1 million final figure approved by RTM. Current budget: $148.9 million
• Police Department: Requested $15.3 million; Board of Finance recommended $14.9 million and $14.9 million final figure approved by RTM. Current budget: $14.7 million
• Fire Department: Requested $14.2 million; Board of Finance recommended $13.7 million and $13.7 million final figure approved by RTM. Current budget: $14.1 million
• Public Works/Operations: Requested $17.5 million; Board of Finance recommended $15.3 million and $15.05 million final figure approved by RTM. Current budget: $15.2 million
• Fairfield Public Library: Requested $4.44 million; Board of Finance recommended $4.17 million and $4.17 million final figure approved by RTM. Current budget: $4.40 million

Democrats objected vociferously to cut in school spending, which began the night at about $151.7 million for the next fiscal year.

When asked, Superintendent of Schools David Title said the additional cut will mean administrators will review reducing both certified and non-certified staff, "anywhere we could do the least amount of harm."

"We were elected to deliver services the town needs in a cost efficient manner," said RTM member Julie Gottlieb, D-6, noting that the school board proposed increase was just 1.85 percent. The board had initially approved a $155.8 million budget request for 2013-14.

John Mitola, D-2, said he could live with the restoration of $350,000 to the Pequot Library's allocation, action that was taken by the RTM in April, if there were no deeper cuts to the Board of Education.

The RTM, Marc Patten, D-7, said, had approved teacher and administrator contracts with 2 percent increases, while the overall education spending hike was only 1.85 percent.

"If you do the math, we're already below the 2 percent salary increases," Patten said. "To cut further, we know it's going to affect programs."

Taintor Drive resident John Donovan said more spending doesn't equal a better education, and listed areas he felt are too high in the school budget, such as $86,000 for mileage reimbursement and $80,000 for elementary school math text books that were never purchased. He also suggested reducing the number of high school guidance counselors from 18 to 12.

"Demand some accountability," he said. "Other towns have standards; we don't."

"You've already got your pound of flesh," said Charles Street resident Steve Baker, who opposed further education cuts.

Mayweed Road resident Bob MacGuffie wanted to see across-the-board spending cuts. "We're living Ken Flatto's legacy," he said, referring to the former first selectman. MacGuffie said town employees should pay more for their medical costs. "The game is over. There's no more money for this stuff. If we don't watch ourselves, we will bankrupt Fairfield," he said.

"I don't take lightly this proposed reduction," Ed Bateson, R-3, said of the education cut. "This is a $500,000 reduction to a $151 million budget. Overall, the Board of Education is getting significantly more money than it got last year."

The $500,000 cut to education was approved in a 28-21 vote.

Bateson made the motion to cut the $3 million paving budget, which initially was proposed at $3.5 million by the Department of Public Works before being cut by the Board of Selectmen by $250,000.

Public Works Director Joseph Michelangelo said there is about $600,000 unspent in the paving budget, explaining the DPW is waiting to see if those funds will be needed to balance its current budget, which was strained by storms over the past year. If not needed, he said, the $600,000 in paving can be done -- and quickly.

Hal Schwartz, D-7, said six years ago a commitment was made by the RTM to fund road paving in the operating budget, phasing out payment via bonding. The figure agreed to keep up with regular road paving was $3.5 million annually.

"Now this body wants to change the plan," Schwartz said, and Ken Lee, D-10, questioned how, as was suggested, more money could be phased in next year.

Selectman Kevin Kiley said the original commitment was made because the town is "vastly" behind in its road-paving schedule, adding he was opposed to the Board of Selectmen cut.

"I looked at it as not honoring a commitment I had made," Kiley said.

The paving reduction was approved by a 30-19 vote.

Schwartz said he felt a sense of deja vu when Peter Ambrose, R-2, made a motion to cut $250,000 from the budget's contingency account. Last year, the RTM cut $850,000 from contingency, leaving just a little over $250,000 in the account. That forced town departments to make cuts to replace those funds that were largely earmarked for covering anticipated contract settlements.

"We need to have money in the bank," Schwartz said. "Leave the contingency where it is."

But Bruce Ryan, R-10, said last year's contingency cut was not "financial suicide," as it was termed at the time. As of April 30, he said, money had not been spent out of the contingency, but Tetreau said that is not unusual.

"Let's be clear on the facts," Tetreau said. "Typically, we take the contingency out at the end of the fiscal year." Anything left after that, he said, goes into the surplus fund.

Gaylord Meyer, R-1, said she received more than 1,000 emails from residents all over town asking that the tax increase be cut to 2 percent or less, as she stood to support the contingency cut. "Clearly what they want is an affordable Fairfield," Meyer said.

Ann Stamler, D-5, said, she, too, received many emails, and those from her district were not overwhelmingly in support of reducing the budget. "This is a real need," she said, referring to the contingency. "It is as important as paving. This is money we are going to need."

The $250,000 cut to the contingency was approved by a 31-18 vote.

FAIRFIELD BUDGET, BY THE NUMBERS

After months of reviews, and hours of discussion and debate by town boards, the overall budget for Fairfield's 2013-14 fiscal year was adopted by the Representative Town Meeting. Here are the final allocations approved for some of the largest town departments:

- Board of Education: Requested $155.8 million; Board of Finance recommended $151.6 million and $151.1 million final figure approved by RTM. Current budget: $148.9 million

- Police Department: Requested $15.3 million; Board of Finance recommended $14.9 million and $14.9 million final figure approved by RTM. Current budget: $14.7 million

- Fire Department: Requested $14.2 million; Board of Finance recommended $13.7 million and $13.7 million final figure approved by RTM. Current budget: $14.1 million

- Public Works/Operations: Requested $17.5 million; Board of Finance recommended $15.3 million and $15.05 million final figure approved by RTM. Current budget: $15.2 million

- Fairfield Public Library: Requested $4.44 million; Board of Finance recommended $4.17 million and $4.17 million final figure approved by RTM. Current budget: $4.40 million