Fiscal Officer Paul Hiller gave the audience plenty to chew regarding town finances during a recent presentation to the League of Women Voters.

Hiller provided a look at the municipal budget process under way during the league's brown-bag lunch in the Fairfield Public Library last week, and reviewed the major "drivers" that comprise the largest increases in the municipal spending proposed for the fiscal year starting July 1.

The proposed 2012-13 budget is $273.3 million, compared to current spending of $263 million budget, an almost 4 percent increase.

Not all were happy with the information being served up at the lunchtime gathering by the veteran official.

"You're driving people out of the town," said Joan Fortuna. "It's a disgrace to our town ... who's going to listen?"

Hiller told Fortuna that the town's expenses, such as pensions and salaries, are something that have built up over the years. "It's a national debate," he said, referring to public employee salaries and benefits.

"We can only sit here in this town and hope that somebody is going to listen," Fortuna said. "We should not be happy with a 4 percent increase."

The LWV's Charlotte Garrell pointed out that residents have a way to make their feelings known, via a referendum. "Look around the room," Garrell said. "Do you see a young face here? ... They want the budget as it is. If you don't like it, you can have a referendum."

J. Alfred Dunn said most people didn't seem to mind the town's spending in the past, and it has been only when it began to "pinch" their own budgets that they question expenditures. "We were there when they passed these budgets and we didn't say a word," Dunn said.

One person in the audience suggested switching municipal employee pensions to defined contribution plans. Hiller said new employees in the Town Hall Employee union will be in a 401-K plan, but cautioned that such plans for police and firefighters could prove very costly to the town.

Police and firefighters right now are not covered by Social Security. If switched from a pension plan, the town would be paying Social Security not only on their salaries, but their overtime and outside duty pay. Pension benefits are based only their base salary.

Hiller said the Internal Revenue Service requires that outside duty pay be funneled through the town from the company hiring the officers. He said the companies are not allowed to pay an officer directly, which some argued would reduce the town's expenses.

He also said it is a goal of the current administration to get rid of a "negative outlook" designation by credit-rating agency Moody's in order to maintain Fairfield's triple-A bond rating. Hiller said that $5.5 million allocated in the proposed budget for the surplus account, risk management and worker's compensation are designed to shore up the town's top credit status.

greilly@ctpost.com; 203-556-2771; http://twitter.com/GreillyPost