Tetreau: Fairfield has strong foundation, budget challenges ahead

FAIRFIELD — First Selectman Mike Tetreau praised the town’s achievements and cautioned about upcoming fiscal challenges for 2019 at his annual state of the town address.

“Fairfield is a special place and a very special community ... we need to remain vigilant and continuously look for opportunities for improvement,” Tetreau said Jan. 28 in his address at the Representative Town Meeting.

In 2018, the town earned accolades from Niche report card, with an “A plus” grade on Best Places to Live in the state. Similarly, The Yankee Institute, a Hartford-based think tank, ranked Fairfield as the number one Most Business Friendly Town in the state.

Tetreau supports increasing business and commerce in town, particularly industrial areas of Commerce Drive, to help maintain low tax hikes, as the majority of the town’s tax revenue relies primarily on property taxes.

“The options are clear, we either grow our commercial tax base or watch our mill rate increase,” Tetreau said.

The federal government’s new tax plan, approved in 2017, will also affect the budget process, particularly as state and local tax deductions are limited.

Superintendent Toni Jones’ budget, unanimously approved by the Board of Education last week, came in at $182,372,957 and with no major changes to the bottom line throughout the review process.

Fairfield schools and students have also been recognized in the previous year, from first-place finishes at the state level in history competitions to All-American awards for athletes.

But with these are other challenges that include upgrades to facilities and also the divvying of the Early Childhood Center between Warde High School and Stratfield Elementary.

Reduced state aid to municipalities in recent years, particularly in Fairfield County, has also been part of the town’s fiscal planning.

In the midst of budget season, Tetreau, who will unveil his budget in the coming weeks, said the town funding bodies would work to accommodate the Board of Education’s request, which forms about 65 percent of the town’s entire annual budget.

“This is a 5 percent increase on the largest expense driver in our budget,” Tetreau said. “It is the highest request in over a decade ... this is going to be a struggle for all of our boards on how to integrate this into a budget with a reasonable tax increase.”

Last year, the town funding bodies — the Board of Selectmen, the Board of Finance, and the Representative Town Meeting — approved a $305 million budget, making virtually no changes to the town or education budgets.

The current mill rate is at 26.36 mills, according to the Fairfield local government website. The next property revaluation is scheduled for 2020.

The fiscal year 2020 budget is scheduled for Board of Selectmen vote March 13, Board of Finance April 3 and RTM May 6.