Selectmen postpone final vote on budget
DARIEN — In an effort to keep the upcoming town budget as tight as possible, town leaders have removed a police request for civilian dispatchers from this year’s budget discussions going forward.
Town Administrator Kate Buch had included the hiring of three additional civilian dispatchers in the budget with a delayed hiring until the spring. Though a final vote on the budget has yet to take place, the selectmen agreed Tuesday night to rule out the line item and to consider it for Fiscal Year 2020 or beyond.
Selectman Kip Koons alluded to Board of Finance Chairman Jon Zagrodzky’s constant warnings regarding the long-term costs of adding personnel to town hall.
“Once you hire somebody, you’re talking about millions of dollars in the future (in salaries and benefits). Right now we’re on the cusp of some big changes in Connecticut — I don’t know if it’s going to get worse or better, who knows — but they’re not going to get better by a lot. I would be cautious and would not make that decision this fiscal year,” Koons said.
The three other selectmen voiced similar opinions leading Stevenson to say that the item would not be included in the budget and could be revisited in a future fiscal year. Selectman Marc Thorne was not present at the meeting.
Buch’s proposed Fiscal Year 2019 budget, of $45,980,169, is .42 percent lower than the current fiscal year. The budget will likely remain in that threshold as deliberations continue but line item changes are still being discussed.
Stevenson was confident that the approved budget would remain flat but she noted that the unpredictable nature of the state’s fiscal crisis and unexpected circumstances could potentially affect services provided by the town in future years.
“We need to have a conversation, once we put this budget to bed, and prepare to see if we need to cut services and where we would start. We have to be prepared for that,” Stevenson said.
Officials emphasized the need to employ metrics and performance measures to see where services should be cut if such measures were necessary.
“I think it’s one of those tools we will have to use in evaluating one service versus another and we’re fortunate this in that debt service costs are reduced,” Buch said.
First Selectman Jayme Stevenson concluded the selectmen meeting Tuesday night and tabled the final vote for Feb. 26. Representative Town Meeting members will gather in the Town Hall auditorium on the same day according to the government calendar.
The Board of Education also convened on Tuesday night and approved its budget with a 2.34 percent increase over the current year’s budget.
Both the Board of Education and Selectmen will hand in their respective budgets to the Board of Finance by March 6. Ultimately, the budget is approved by the RTM, a body that cannot make increases but can veto items on the Board of Selectmen budget and cut expenses on the Board of Education budget.