Scrutiny begins for '16 budget proposal with 1.64% tax hike
Even though Tetreau's budget presentation had to be rescheduled twice last week because of snowstorms, a sunnier reception for the spending package is anticipated since it carries one of the lowest proposed tax increases in years.
The meeting kicked off the town's budget season, a process that will see the spending proposal -- with a 1.64 percent increase in the tax rate to 24.8 mills -- reviewed and voted on by the selectmen, finance panel and, finally, the Representative Town Meeting. The process is scheduled to end in the first week in May when the Board of Finance sets the mill rate for the fiscal year that starts July 1.
While the selectmen and finance panels can increase or decrease line items in the proposed spending package, the RTM cannot add to the budget proposal. The legislative body can, however, restore cuts to the original proposal through an appeal process.
Tetreau's spending plan makes no cuts to the Board of Education's $160.8 million request. The current school budget is $156 million.
The first selectman has proposed a town operations budget of $130.2 million, which includes debt service and retiree benefits.
The proposed 1.64 tax increase is the lowest in 15 years, according to Tetreau, and the increase for town-side spending amounts to 0.77 percent, the lowest increase in 20 years.
"When you look at a budget, you have to look at what we are trying to accomplish," Tetreau said, "and that starts with a vision for Fairfield."
That vision, he said, includes keeping the town and schools safe, helping senior citizens maintain their residences in town, becoming a cultural destination and being a leader in energy conservation and sustainability.
Tetreau said many of the usual budget cost drivers have seen decreases, such as the annual recommended contribution to the pension fund, a lower debt service and worker's compensation expenses that continue to trend downward.
He also provided charts comparing the town's expenses to Greenwich, West Hartford and Westport, that showed the town's expenses per person and taxes per person are lower than both Greenwich and Westport.
"When you talk about overall efficiency, these are the numbers I would look to," Tetreau said. "This is what we're spending to deliver services from education to public safety to the library, parks and recreation, to all of our residents."
Fairfield's expenses per person are $4.650 and taxes per person are $4,310. In Westport, those numbers are $7,112 and $6,533, while in Greenwich it is $6,012 and $5,357, according to his figures.
Both Greenwich and Westport used money from their surplus to fund their current budgets, he said.
After hearing from the first selectman, members of the two boards began their department-by-department review of the budget proposal, looking at funds allocated for the contingency, legal services, the internal service fund and insurance.