DARIEN — Last year, the budget proposal theme was about a “year of growth.” For Fiscal Year 2019, the theme is to hold tight as revenue from redevelopment efforts take shape.
With the background of a state budget crisis and recent federal tax reform, Town Administrator Kate Buch presented a town budget .42 percent lower than the current fiscal year.
“I would like to thank the department heads,” Buch said at the Board of Selectmen meeting on Tuesday. “They took the call for a zero percent increase seriously.”
The proposed 0.42 percent decrease in the selectmen’s budget goes from $46,174,632 in Fiscal Year 2018 to $45,980,169 in Fiscal Year 2019.
The selectmen have a say on nearly a quarter of the town’s budget. This includes the town operational expenses, proposed capital spending and funds for the Darien Public Library. About two-thirds of the entire town budget is comprised of Board of Education spending.
At a Board of Education meeting last week, a $250,000 increase to its budget to pay for additional retirement costs caused the school’s budget request to go up to $98,511,340, a 3.01 percent increase from the current fiscal year. The Board of Education had anticipated a 2.75 percent increase prior to the update.
These additional retirement fund expenses are part of a different valuation method carried out by the town’s new actuary, according to Buch.
First Selectman Jayme Stevenson also addressed the Board of Education meeting of last week.
“The town and the Board of Education essentially received the information from the actuary at the same time. The pension board was responsible for voting on policy changes that would affect both the town and Board of Education contribution. This happened shortly before the Board of Education meeting. I can understand why the Board of Education felt like they got the information at the 11th hour, when in fact they got the information when the town itself got the information,” Stevenson said.
Stevenson said she had met with Buch and Board of Education Chairwoman Tara Ochman and Superintendent Dan Brenner Monday morning to discuss optimizing communication between departments.
“Some of the information was not received by the actuary in a timely manner, which pushed the timeline back, but we’re going to work with the Board (of Education) to make sure that doesn’t happen again,” Buch said.
The amount of state funding budgeted by the town dropped from $220,086 to $106,426. Buch noted state aid provides less than .1 percent of the General Fund revenue.
The hiring of new personnel for the town would be limited solely to three additional civilian dispatchers, an item requested by the police chief, Buch said. The final approval sits with the selectmen.
“I kept them in the budget, but deferred hiring until the spring,” Buch said, meaning the hiring wouldn’t take place until halfway through Fiscal Year 2019.
Buch addressed budget cost drivers. The proposed total debt service is $10,813,140, an 8.56 percent decrease from the current fiscal year.
Capital project funding is $2,637,996, or 14.15 percent lower than the current fiscal year.
These reductions in spending offset increases in other budget drivers, such as costs associated with the hiring of new personnel, medical insurance increases and retirement fund contributions.
Among other proposed changes are increased working hours for the town hall receptionist and moving the processing of parking tickets into town hall to improve efficiency.
Redevelopment projects expected to take place this year — such as the Noroton Heights Shopping Center and The Commons at Noroton Heights — led to an increase in staff in the Fire Marshal’s Office and Building Department.
“The growth from redevelopment is starting to show and will bring increased revenues in future years through permit fees now and later through taxes,” Buch said.
The Board of Selectmen will continue to discuss the budget until its special board meeting on Feb. 13, when a final vote will be taken.