DARIEN — With reductions in state funding to Darien, town officials have seemingly found a way to maintain nearly flat budgets for the coming fiscal year.
Representative Town Meeting (RTM) members met on Feb. 6 to discuss and review the proposed board of selectmen and board of education budgets.
RTM Finance and Budget Committee member Terrence Duffy said the proposed town budget had “negligible changes.” Town Administrator Kate Buch had proposed a flat town budget for the Fiscal Year 2018-2019, amounting to $45,980,169. The number is 0.42 percent lower than that of the current fiscal year.
The Board of Education has proposed a $98 million budget, a 2.74 percent increase from the current fiscal year, though the board is still discussing further cuts.
Earlier this year, Gov. Dannel Malloy and the Connecticut Department of Transportation announced the indefinite postponement of projects statewide. $6.5 million in capital plan funds for maintenance and repair in Darien were postponed.
Some funding for Education Cost Sharing grants to Darien were also cut as part of Gov. Malloy’s budget adjustment plan announced this week.
Jack Davis, chairman of the Finance and Budget RTM committee, said that if budgets come in with a one or two percent increases, taxes could be kept relatively low. Davis noted that factors like salary increases due to contractual obligations, services and capital investments to maintain infrastructure affect the calculation of mill rates.
“Our job (as the RTM) is to review the budget and anything that has a financial implication to the town,” Davis said.
The Board of Education will take their vote on Feb. 13 regarding their budget while the Board of Selectmen may or may not push their date towards the end of the month after some selectmen discussed requiring more time to deliberate on the proposed budget.
Both boards will hand in their respective budgets to the Board of Finance by March 6 which then reviews the budgets as they plan for possible changes and for the bonding for capital investments. Ultimately, the budget must be approved by the RTM body which cannot make increases but can veto items on the Board of Selectmen budget and cut expenses on the Board of Education budget.
Duffy was concerned about the possible hiring of three civilian dispatchers, an item requested by the police chief and one that would be ultimately approved or not by the Board of Selectmen.
“It’s pretty straightforward, there have been no big surprises but a big area that we could scrutinize is the civilian dispatch addition,” Duffy said. He added that metrics regarding the hiring of previous civilian dispatchers in earlier years could be looked at to evaluate performance.
Fellow committee member Iris Mix agreed. “There should be a schedule of when (the dispatchers are) working and who gets relieved to do other work for the police. It seems very vague.”
Board of Finance Chairman Jon Zagrodzky was in attendance at the RTM meeting.
Committee members also voiced their opinions on what aspects of the budget they would like to focus for when the “buddy system”, a process where committee members and Board of Finance members pair up to look at the approved budgets, comes into play.
This is the third year that the “buddy system”, implemented by Davis, will be used.
“We try and do that to work in conjunction so that everyone has the same information. This allows for really constructive conversations which need to be done,” Davis said.
Diving into the details of the soon—to—be approved budgets is a key part of the process.
“We each get to learn a different area and better recommend how the line items work because we all understand how they work,” member Lisa Yarnell said.