The Fairfield Representative Town Meeting passed the Fiscal Year 2013 budget Tuesday, pruning $1.1 million with a and an $850,000 cut to the town’s contingency fund, a move termed “financial suicide” by Fairfield’s Chief Fiscal Officer Paul Hiller.
The budget passed in 34 – 13 vote after roughly two-and-a-half hours of deliberation Tuesday. The final result is a $272 million operating plan of which $250,886,383 will be raised by taxation. Last week’s GOP proposal , nor was there a motion to reduce the budget by departmental line items.
RTM Majority Leader David Becker, R-1, started Tuesday’s meeting with the move to cut $850,000 from Fairfield’s $1,088,517 general contingency fund, leaving $238,000. Becker stated he felt $850,000 would not be difficult and estimated that there exists approximately $670,000 in vacancies in the proposed budget.
Considering Moody’s Investors Service based on the proposed budget’s contributions to reserve accounts and the cushion of the contingency account, both Hiller and Board of Finance Chairman Tom Flynn urged the RTM to reject the cut.
“This cut would fall in the category of financial suicide,” Hiller said.
Of the 18 AAA towns in the state, Fairfield ranks 17th in level of financial reserves, which “remain below average,” according to Hiller.
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If a catastrophe were to hit Fairfield and the contingency depleted, Flynn added, the only place to dig in for emergency funds would be the surplus, and creating a situation that is “fiscally irresponsible.”
Catastrophes aside, some of the contingency funds were meant to cover potential raises that could arise from the five labor contracts the town still needs to negotiate -- plus money for the State Primary in August and to implement the RTM’s upcoming redistricting ordinance, according to information from the Registrar’s Office.
John Mitola, D-2, asked Hiller whether the Board of Finance had the authority to transfer funds from departments to the contingency if the financiers felt the $850,000 was too much. Hiller said that, under state statute, the board could transfer money.
“It seems as though the majority is going to force the Board of Finance to make the cuts to the departments to put the money back into the contingency,” Mitola said.
The motion to reduce the contingency fund by $850,000 passed 26-21. Members of the Board of Finance promptly gathered their things and left the Fairfield Warde High School gym. Appeals made to reconsider the item failed.
Marc Patten, D-7, said that of the 231 emails from constituents the RTM received, the majority urged to vote no to cuts.
“What those people did is elect us to do a job. The Board of Selectmen and Board of Finance did their job to create the budget and then it comes to us to make the hard decisions. But because we don’t like the rules…shenanigans ensue.”
“I don’t care what party you’re from or what part of town you’re from,” Patten continued, “but to cut the one item we all know is one of the dumbest areas in the budget to cut…nobody gets to make up the rules.”
Becker countered that there “appear to be no rules” and that maybe it’s time to start thinking about charter reform.
“The conversation starts tomorrow as to how we move forward,” he added.
Following the contingency vote, Joe Palmer, R-4, moved to reconsider the $27,810 cut to the H. Smith Richardson Golf Course budget, explaining that the RTM was now taking a “more global approach” to the budget.
But Selectman Cristin McCarthy Vahey pointed out that the Board of Selectmen and Board of Finance both voted on a line item budget.
“I’m very disappointed,” she said. “It feels like the rules were changed. You changed your minds because you’re taking a different approach.”
The motion to cut the $27,810 from the golf course’s budget was reconsidered and it failed, 5-42, so the funds were restored.
Before the final vote was cast, Bruce Ryan, R-10, pointed out that the $1.1 million decrease to the budget is really a reduction of a more than $10 million increase.
“It’s ludicrous that we can’t find $1 million in savings in a $273 million budget,” Ryan said. “Anyone who doesn’t understand the reality of the numbers is in total la la land.”
The Board of Finance is scheduled to meet tonight at 7:30 p.m. in Sullivan Independence Hall to set the mill rate for Fiscal Year 2013, which will take effect July 1.