DARIEN — “It’s not going to be a pretty year.”
Such was First Selectman Jayme Stevenson’s solemn response when discussion at the Board of Selectmen meeting Tuesday shifted toward the upcoming 2019 fiscal year and its budget directive.
It’s no secret the state budget, which was finally adopted in October, posed a problem for all the underlying levels of government, particularly with some cuts to local aid.
More recently, the U.S. Senate’s tax reform bill passed on Dec. 1 plans to do away with some of the tax deductions available at the state and local levels, though the bill has yet to be merged with the U.S. House of Representatives’ bill. Local taxpayers were allowed deductions on property taxes as an offset, but if the Republican-backed bill becomes law, they will will have to foot a larger share of taxes.
“A portion of the proposed federal tax code modification will reduce and eliminate deductions for state and local taxes,” Stevenson said. “This is, in essence, a tax increase by the federal government.”
At the meeting, Stevenson, a Republican, said that although Darien is a generous community which highly values and invests in its education and community infrastructure, it will have to be “particularly mindful” of the changes that are soon to affect local taxpayers.
Marc Thorne, one of the two Democrats on the five-member board, agreed that fewer deductions would impact Darien residents.
“We’re not going to be done with this in six months or two years,” he noted.
Pam Sparkman, the newest member on the board, comes with the initial excitement of being voted into office, but she recognized that times will be hard
“We had so much energy into the parks and recreation projects and so much momentum and it’s going to take some leadership to talk everyone down from these grand ideas,” the Democrat said.
“It’s disheartening but we have to look at what we can do for the community that won’t cost a lot of money,” Sparkman added. She suggested inexpensive initiatives, such as composting, could be an approach that wouldn’t punish an already critical budget.
Looking forward, increases in staff personnel in Darien are expected to remain stagnant in order to maintain the budget as the costs of hiring and providing health benefits could impact the budget negatively in the long run.
“The departments are really going to have to make a case to the Board of Selectmen to add personnel. We have to be careful as to what we commit to,” Stevenson said. “There could be further reductions in education aid or special education funding, on teachers’ pensions. There could be a mandatory consolidation of local services...these are things that the Board of Selectmen, the Board of Finance and the Board of Education will have to work through in order to manage our way through this minefield.”