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NEWS ALERT: Weston finance board cuts 2013-14 school budget to below current funding level

moneyNEWS ALERT: The Weston Board of Finance Thursday night approved a 2013-14 budget that includes a school budget lower than the current year’s and a town operating budget that adds just one additional police officer, not two as requested by the police department.

With a 5-2 vote, the board approved a school budget of $45,575,418 — $11,774 less than the current year’s budget. By state law, the town is allowed to reduce it’s school budget since enrollment has declined.

Board members Melissa Koller and Steve Ezzes voted against the motion.

The amount that will go to voters is $718,250 less than the budget proposal approved by the school board, and $190,000 less than the $528,250 adjustment the school board later said it could make based mostly on favorable health insurance bids.

All seven finance board members agreed the school board and administration did an excellent job of coming in with an extremely low proposed increase. However, most also thought staffing decreasing were not keeping pace with declining enrollment.

The board also approved a town operating budget of $11,713,441. This is $23,000 more than the budget approved by the Board of Selectmen due to worker’s compensation bids that came in higher than expected.

The approved town includes the costs associated with hiring one additional police officer. The police department originally requested two new officers, which would have brought the total of patrol officers to 11, but the selectmen had previously only approved the addition of a 10th officer.

Because the finance board had gotten a lot of feedback from the public, the Police Commission, and the police chief regarding the request for a total of 11 officers, the board spent some time tonight discussing that possibility.

Weston police Sgt. Mike Ferullo provided the board with a cost analysis of nine vs. 10 vs. officers in regard to overtime pay. Sgt. Ferullo said an 11th officer would be able to reduce overtime enough to offset the cost by about $12,000 — which would still mean an additional cost for the extra officer of about $90,000.

Sgt. Ferullo and First Selectman Gayle Weinstein assured the finance board that the “Mile of Safety” — the name given to School Road and the school campus — will be covered for a full nine hours every school day (an increase of three hours a day that has been in place since the school shootings in Newtown in December) regardless of whether the town pays for the extra time with overtime or with straight time.

Mr. Ezzes asked Chairman Jerry Sargent to poll members to get a sense of whether anyone would entertain a motion to add an 11th officer to the budget. The sense was the board would not, so no motion to do so was made.

The finance board also approved a capital budget of $1,116,228, and debt service budget of $6,554,632.

The total combined budget that will go to voters for approval at the Annual Town Budget Meeting (ATBM) Wednesday, April 24, is $64,959,719. That is just $6,437 more than the current approved gross budget.

The school, and town budgets approved at the ATBM will go to a referendum. Voters may cast ballots by machine vote immediately following the ATBM or on Thursday, May 2, from noon to 8 p.m.

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