Board of Selectmen budget work begins

At its meeting Monday night, Jan. 23, the Board of Selectmen began work on its fiscal year 2018 budget, and it appears there will be some heavy lifting to bring it in line with the Board of Finance guidance of a 1.25% decrease.

Facing what she termed a “perfect storm” of rising expenses and decreasing state aid, First Selectman Lynne Vanderslice announced that departmental budget requests total $33,137,806, for a 2.9% increase over the current budget.

The operating budget request is $31,946,200, an increase of $931,009. The operating capital budget request is $1,191,606, an increase of $4,917.

The top five drivers are increases in wages and salary steps, group insurance costs, pension and OPEB (other post-employment benefits) contributions, building repairs, and a Georgetown Fire District bill.

“We had some goals in the development of this budget,” Vanderslice said, which she shared with selectmen Lori Bufano, David Clune, and Dick Dubow. Michael Kaelin was absent.

Those goals include:

  • Funding for phase one of the update of the Plan of Conservation and Development. This was moved up from fiscal year 2019 due to the increase in the number of inquiries regarding development along Route 7.

  • Funding to perform deferred maintenance on town buildings, facilities and roads.

  • Funding to complete property revaluation as required by state statute.

  • Funding to meet the needs of an increasingly aging population.

The budget’s ongoing goals include:

  • Reducing and slowing cost growth through efficiencies and labor negotiations.

  • Collaborating with the Board of Education to reduce the overall town budget.

  • Funding to maintain the safety of the town and its residents.

  • Funding to provide the services residents have come to expect.

“This budget follows two years when in 2016 we finished the year approximately $1 million less than what the operating budget was,” Vanderslice said. Of that, almost $700,000 came from labor savings due to vacancies. “Quite honestly, existing employees were stretched to achieve those savings,” she said.

“I knew we were coming into a difficult budget year and I thought it was important if we could try to bank some of that money and that’s what we did. The 2017 budget is $213,000 less than the 2016 budget and we’re forecasting that we’re going to end up just about flat on that budget.

“But unfortunately, [despite] all that nice, favorable news, we’re now entering what is a perfect storm. Across the board our underlying costs are increasing — whether it is electricity, fuel, health care — all of that is up, and, of course, state support is decreasing.”

She then reviewed some specific pressing issues, such as building repairs, which received a $90,000 increase in the budget request.

“We have roof issues. We had a strong rainstorm where we actually had ceiling tiles fall down onto the desk of one of the employees in the town clerk’s department,” she said. “Fortunately, she had just left her desk. We just had the same thing with the tiles at the entrance [of town hall] where you come in.”

While some retirements in the upper ranks of the police and fire departments provided past savings, the 2018 budget will see a $432,000 increase in wages and salary steps. Lower base salaries for new hires bring greater annual increases.

Group insurance costs are expected to rise about 6.5%, generating approximately a  $212,000 increase.

There will be a $104,000 increase in pension and OPEB contributions and a $60,000 increase in the expected tax bill from the Georgetown Fire District. The town has always assumed the fire district tax, Vanderslice explained, since all property owners pay taxes that fund the Wilton Fire Department, even if they are in the Georgetown Fire District.

Cost reductions

Efforts to save money or slow the growth of costs were also outlined.

Among them are changes in benefits for new non-union employees:

  • Reduction in the defined contribution rate, from 9% to 5%.

  • Reduction in the maximum sick day payout, from 90 days to 60 days.

  • Limiting of health care benefit to a high-deductible/HSA plan.

Other initiatives include:

  • Anticipated outcomes of collective bargaining.

  • Elimination of the payroll supervisor in the finance department.

  • Avoidance of an increase in the transfer station subsidy.

Individual departments

The evening also saw the review of several department budgets, beginning with the Board of Selectmen. Vanderslice announced that the secretarial position in her office has been eliminated. The person in that position filled another vacancy.

Instead, she added part-time hours for a higher-level person to work on special projects and legal compliance. Compliance, she said, would help reduce legal fees. The special projects would involve identifying and working to implement efficiencies. The position is expected to pay for itself, and combined with eliminating the secretarial position will result in a $25,000 decrease.

With Director of Facilities Chris Burney assuming the responsibilities for school facilities as well as town buildings, there will be a benefit to the overall budget.

In the Finance Department, a payroll supervisor position has been eliminated for a savings of $47,000. The department has also identified a means of eliminating $18,900 in servicing fees.

Information Systems has proposed flat staffing despite increasing demands on the department. It will also avoid consulting fees by overseeing the implementation of a new telephone system for the town and school district. On the downside, there is no one to back up the department director.

In addition to reducing benefits for new non-union hires, the Human Resources Department will rebid health claims administration services and has eliminated a second claims adviser.

Filling a part-time vacancy will help the department deal with an increase in the volume and complexity of activity. It will also allow for 100% in-house replacement of positions, thus avoiding placement fees and reducing the use of temporary employees.

Future work sessions

The Board of Selectmen will continue to hear departmental requests before finalizing the municipal budget. The review of the land use, parks and recreation, police, public works, and fire department budgets will take place at the Board of Selectmen meeting on Saturday, Feb. 4, at 9 a.m. in Room B at town hall.

A review of non-town departments will take place at the selectmen’s regular meetings in February. If necessary, there is a meeting scheduled for Feb. 27.

The board will present its budget at a public hearing on Monday, March 27, at 7:30 p.m. in the Middlebrook auditorium.

Other budget dates:

  • March 6, 7:30 p.m., Board of Selectmen/Board of Finance budget review in town hall Room B.

  • March 20, 7:30 p.m., public hearing on the Board of Education budget at Middlebrook School.

  • March 29, 7:30 p.m., Board of Finance mill rate meeting in town hall Room B. March 30 and March 31 have also been reserved if further meetings are needed.

  • May 2, 7:30 p.m., Annual Town Meeting at the Clune Center.

All budget dates are on the town calendar on the town website,