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First Selectman Proposes Fiscal Year 2014 Budget with 6.4% Tax Hike

First Selectman Michael Tetreau introduced the operating budget for both the town of Fairfield and school district to the Board of Finance on Tuesday.

First Selectman Michael Tetreau presented to the boards of Selectmen and Finance on Tuesday a $287.3 million operational budget -- including the Board of Education's financial plan -- for Fiscal Year 2014 (FY2014).

The proposed budget carries a 5.52 percent -- $15 million -- increase in expenses over the current $272.3 million plan. If approved as is by the Board of Finance and RTM, the budget would carry a 6.4 percent -- or 1.5 mills -- hike in taxes.

The proposed budget includes a $1.1 million lighter Board of Education budget than was adopted by the school board last month, Tetreau said, thanks to update health insurance figures. Tetreau also shaved off $1.8 million from department requests, he told the finance board.

Despite the tax increase, Tetreau said the town is "beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel" due to "strategic investments" in financial reserves and other moves that should allow for major commitments -- like health insurance -- to trend lower in future budgets.

One of the goals in the FY2014 budget is to shore up Fairfield's contingency and reserve fund, Tetreau said. Those contributions to the increase will not necessarily maintain their current magnitude year over year.  

But Board of Finance Chair Tom Flynn identified a key word -- "hope, as in we hope this happens, we hope that happens, etc." -- in the discussion about future budgets.

"Hope isn't a strategy. We're going to have to look at the services we're providing," he said. "The cost of providing these services is affecting the affordability of this town."

Services vs. Affordability

While the other goals of the proposed FY2014 budget is to "maintain the services our residents need and expect at a cost we can afford," Tetreau agreed that those services need to be evaluated and the efficiency of their delivery determined -- and that could mean structural changes to the way departments run.

Finance board member Jim Brown recalled the audit that was done in 2010 when the auditors came back to the Board of Finance and said the town was running "as efficiently as you can" with its structural model.

Brown said it seemed that, based on the audit, the only way to slow increases is to run on a new model, though such a change could bring "pain" and major discussions.

There was also some talk of creating a "Service Evaluation Committee" comprised of town officials and residents. Tetreau said that many people have talked to him about their concerns with Fairfield's budget and tax rate and some have "great skill sets" that could be of use to such a committee.

'We Need to Go Out and Sell the Town'

In addition to gauging what the town can afford to provide as services, the financiers want to scope out more non-tax revenues to offset increases in spending.

Non-tax revenues for this budget are reduced by $79,000, a change that is "relatively flat" compared to the $700,000 drop the year prior.

"This is one of the indicators that our economy isn't back yet, but it may have bottomed out," Tetreau said.

Finance Vice Chair Rob Bellitto asked Tetreau about how he plans to attract large commercial bases to Fairfield.

"We need to go out and sell the town to whoever will listen...it's that cooperation and concerted effort that we're missing," Bellitto said, regarding working with developers to bring in more commercial property.

Tetreau said the town is currently a tough sell to large commercial enterprises -- there are only two sites that would work: the former Exide Battery Plant and the Fairfield Metro Center.

The Exide Plant site cannot be developed on until the Mill River is cleaned up -- which could take years -- and as for the Metro Center, "the developer has to find someone who will come before you can build it," Tetreau said, adding that developer Kurt Wittek has made it clear he wants to build a residential property on the site.

The Metro Center is a "conundrum," Selectman Kevin Kiley said. "The building is not built, the developer has a piece of land that we can't do anything about; it's one of two -- or maybe only one of one -- of the places in town that we can do anything creatively."

He told Tetreau and the Board of Finance that the town should fight a residential proposal "tooth and nail" so that the site could become home to a commercial base.

The boards of Finance and Selectmen will continue budget discussions on Wednesday, Feb. 27 at 7 p.m. at the Board of Education Conference Room. The accounts up for discussion are contingency and pension.

Budget Breakdown

* denotes a major "cost driver"

 

Department FY13 Budget (Approved) FY14 Budget (Proposed by 1st Selectman) Change ($) % Change % of Proposed Increase Board of Education* $148,936,464 $154,729,234 $5,792,770 3.89% 38.55% Pension* $3,514,478 $6,559,449 $3,044,971 86.64% 20.26% Contingency* $238,517 $2,559,140 $2,320,623 972.94% 15.44% Debt Service* $25,904,804 $27,589,186 $1,684,382 6.50% 11.21% Paving (Public Works)* $2,500,000 $3,500,000 $1,000,000 40% 6.65% Salary/Wages* $41,796,431 $42,739,151 $942,720 2.26% 6.27% Fees and Professional Services* $4,971,301 $5,495,143 $523,842 10.54% 3.49% Supplemental Contribution to Surplus Fund* $500,000 $925,000 $425,000 85% 2.83% Workers' Compensation* $2,550,890 $2,899,800 $348,910 13.86% 2.32% OPEB (Retirees' Health)* $8,331,367 $8,671,760 $340,393 4.09% 2.27% Health Insurance Activities* $9,933,702 $10,122,089 $188,387 1.90% 1.25% All Other $21,104,740 $21,519,688 $414,948 1.97% 2.76% Supplemental Contribution to Risk Management Fund $2,000,000 $0 ($2,000,000)   -13.31% Total $272,282,694 $287,309,640 $15,026,946   100.00%
TJC February 22, 2013 at 04:00 PM
Don't we have a Town Helicopter too?
R. Ludlowe February 22, 2013 at 04:06 PM
Fair point, Chucky (I've missed you too). The spend has continued to grow, but there are cuts made every year to the ask (some appropriately). Anyone remember the referendum of 2 years ago? I am in complete agreement that the actual spending is never in the right place. The whole middle-school redistricting that is STILL costing us increased $$$ in busing... I'm all for good education and smart spending. We have neither right now.
William T. February 22, 2013 at 04:24 PM
Stop complaining and start telling your representatives at the BOF and RTM what you are willing to live without if you want stabilize spending. In today's world of modern technology someone needs to have the vision to recognize we don't need a branch library as it currently exists. Someone needs to have the vision to recognize we are a shorefront community with a beach pavilion that should be able to pay for itself through small banquet rentals, NIMBYs don't complain your taxes are high in the beach area if you won't help generate revenue, the Pavilion is a potential goldmine. Someone needs to have the vision to see that we aren't a farming community anymore, private clubs need to pay their fair share of taxes. Someone needs to have the vision that if we partner with a private entity to rebuild and rebrand our golf course, we have a potential windfall for revenue. Do we need our own Health Department? Can we join a consortium? How many secretaries do we need? Why aren't we more automated? Do all Town Hall department have to be open 5 days a week, 8 hours a day? How many program offerings do we really need in our schools to stay competitive? Do we need to have "free" fireworks, or should we add a surcharge for parking on July 4? Why does the First Selectman have three secretaries and a chief administrative officer? Come on people stop complaining on these boards and start throwing out solutions and write to your reps!!
Chuck E. Arla February 22, 2013 at 04:24 PM
It's 6-3.
Chuck E. Arla February 22, 2013 at 04:26 PM
BOF is 6-3
Bette February 22, 2013 at 04:28 PM
has anyone in town hall contacted Apple to see if they would refurbish the Community Theatre into a retail outlet like they have in Greenwich?
Osborn Hiller February 22, 2013 at 05:25 PM
OK Buzz, I guess I was at alternate Board of Ed meetings with lookalikes. Tim Kery lives in the Osborn Hill district, I think I might recognize him.
Osborn Hiller February 22, 2013 at 05:32 PM
Tim, spare me. I am a house owning property payer in Fairfield. Are you? I will be paying taxes to Fairfield on my house and my cars and whatever else for the next two decades. Will you? Yeah, I've really got time to visit Occupy protests. My concerns are with Fairfield, not BS like that.
Ajack February 22, 2013 at 05:34 PM
William Reedy, An astute and incite full view and more than likely correct. So, he gets what he wants by giving us want we don't want and then convinces us that we got what we thought we got, but didn't. Sounds snaky to me. Then again, isn't that the definition of a politician , for the most part? We get a snit sandwich and they tell us how good it tastes, while they have a hand in our pockets looking for more.
Osborn Hiller February 22, 2013 at 05:40 PM
P&Z keeps pushing for a big office complex at Metro Center and it's just not gonna happen with the existing commercial vacancy rates in Fairfield County as they are. I don't see the problem with apartments at Metro Center which would likely not be bought by families with school aged children.
Osborn Hiller February 22, 2013 at 05:42 PM
The budget needs to be approved by the Board of Selectmen, Board of Finance, and the RTM? How is that ramming anything?
Ajack February 22, 2013 at 05:51 PM
Yup. sounds good to me. Keep the ideas coming. That's what we need.
Osborn Hiller February 22, 2013 at 06:03 PM
William, the problem is it's easy for someone in Southport to support closing the Fairfield Woods branch. It's easy for someone in Stratfield to support closing Ye Yacht. It's easy for a young professional to say we spend too much on the Senior Center. It's easy for someone in Greenfield Hill to say we don't need more sidewalks in the beach area. No one wants THEIR toys taken away.
FFLDRESIDENT February 23, 2013 at 09:10 AM
Osborn Hiller, Just because you don’t work and can stay all night at meetings with fellow PTA moms, that makes you think you will WIN this budget battle and that you RUN THE TOWN? Get real!! Is it really just a game to you, like who can stay at meetings longer into the night, WINS? Should the Fairfield budget really have someone who “wins”? I thought the town should work towards balancing the needs of the varied residents, rather than just Osborn Hiller and her fellow PTA moms who can stay all night at meetings because they have nothing else to do all day?
lbh February 23, 2013 at 01:47 PM
What all these politicians need to realize is that their tax increases do not exist in a bubble. Our taxes will go up in Fairfield. Add that to the increase in State of Connecticut taxes. Then add that to the increase in Federal taxes. It is a significant amount of your monthly income. My take home pay has already decreased by $240 a month since the begining of 2013. It will be less as of March 1st when new tax codes into effect. All this money has to come from somewhere. And despite what the government tells you, the price of inflation is higher. In case you haven't noticed you are getting smaller quantities for items such as soap, contact lens solution, for example, although the price might be the same. The price per ounce is going up. You also need to factor in that the Fed has pumped so much money into the system in the last ten years that the value of the dollar has gone down.The American people are completely fooled. They believe everything they hear on TV or read on the internet. Mike Tetreau is like any other politican, he feeds you what you want to hear ,Osborn Hill, and you believe because it is the easiest path to follow. More money does not make kids smarter.
Ron Drew February 23, 2013 at 06:13 PM
Some of the comments have not stayed on topic but rather badging each other. I am a Commissioner on the WPCA. My understanding (please correct me if I am wrong..nicely) is this there are 3 budgets in Fairfield (Town, BOE and WPCA). The WPCA has met twice regarding their budget. After the first meeting, we mandated that a cap of 3% be made and gave some recommendations. The BOE is very near the 3% but more near 4% so I believe with a little use of the pencil the 3% can be met if addressed not as Red or Blue but as citizens that believe in Fairfield without taking away the education of our kids. As a side note, be careful what you ask for when saying it is OK to build condos by the train station. We talked about this in the past on WPCA. Fairfield's treatment plant has been around for awhile. Many developments are talked about. Commercial typically is OK but condos have toilets and the waste goes to Rod Rd. The more large condo complexs, the more waste which means an upgrade of probably 2-3 million dollars to support. Am I saying no to the developments? No I am not, just saying that new developments cost monies elsewhere to support them which goes right back to the taxpayer as part of capital projects. Stop the back and forth jibber and address the real problems on the budget which looks to me to be pensions and health care and not the day to day line items.
Ron Drew February 23, 2013 at 06:14 PM
BTW...I also believe if the 3 budget comment is correct that RTM and BOF only see a line item for BOE and WPCA...NO DETAIL..is this true??
Eleanor Bruce February 24, 2013 at 07:47 PM
My husband had a cut in his paycheck, they told them he can leave if he does not like his paycheck, so Smart People from the town Hall why are you increasing the taxes. You should work more and get pay less like we, the regular people do. I spent less money in food, my family and I are always cold because the heat temp is very low, we eat less, we do not go out so we do cut many things to survive with the money we have so what is wrong with you that can not do the same. I thought you can do better job than me.
Osborn Hiller February 25, 2013 at 02:51 AM
Commercial Properties have toilets too, I would think. Charge an impact fee if the load on the treatment plant is close to capacity.
Chuck E. Arla February 25, 2013 at 03:22 PM
OH, The point is that commercial / office buildings will have far less impact on the water treatment system. Toilets, yes but no bathing , clothes washing, dish washing, etc. I am not at all certain that your "impact fee" would pass legal muster. Waste water treatment is a common use situation. Why would some hypothetical new residence be any more liable for usage than your home?
Private Sector Taxpayer. March 25, 2013 at 06:11 PM
What about a rescue fund for families foreclosed on for unaffordable taxes, their children are been taxed out of town, to pay for Public Sector UTOPIAN PAY & PENSIONS.
Private Sector Taxpayer. March 25, 2013 at 07:38 PM
More tax increases = more tax foreclosures, dumping Moms' Dads and Children on the street, to finance Public Sector UTOPIAN PAY & PENSIONS.
Private Sector Taxpayer. March 25, 2013 at 07:50 PM
Fairfield needs an Independent Party without a machine attached. The majority of Fairfield Citizens are Registered to vote as unaffiliated. With the WEBB we can organize an Independent movement to govern ourselves. Tell the Corrupt Self Serving, Party Hacks to get out of the way. PRIVATE SECTOR TAXPAYER / VOTERS, stand up for yourselves.
Private Sector Taxpayer. March 25, 2013 at 07:54 PM
Utopian Pay and Pensions. The Private Sector are now VIRTUAL TAX SLAVES to the Public Sector job title holders. (jobs with real work is a private sector thing)
Private Sector Taxpayer. March 25, 2013 at 07:55 PM
The motorcycles are needed for parades.
Private Sector Taxpayer. March 25, 2013 at 07:57 PM
Work is a Private Sector thing. It produces value.
Private Sector Taxpayer. March 25, 2013 at 08:02 PM
Our house will never be in order, look at every department staff, job titles and job descriptions, our town is HI-JACKED by Self Serving Political Scoundrels.
Private Sector Taxpayer. March 25, 2013 at 08:05 PM
RTM do your duty for the Citizens, not the Town Spin-Doctors.
Chuck E. Arla March 25, 2013 at 08:33 PM
Private Sector.. This is a dead month old thread. Move on. BTW, do not understand your circular logic. The motorcycles are only used for parades, therefore we need them for parades? It'd be cheaper to rent bikes and riders one day a year.
Tim March 25, 2013 at 08:36 PM
DM is right! I was told we are going to get MORE for LESS. Please stop with these lies out there that our healthcare costs are going up... silly little fact seekers...

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