Weston first selectman proposes 3.32% town operating budget hike

The first selectman is proposing a 3.32% increase for the town’s 2013-14 operating budget, but an overall decrease to the combined operating, capital and debt service budget. The estimated mill rate increase for the proposed budget is less than 1%.

“My goal is to try to maintain fiscal responsibility and property tax stability, while balancing it with the need to maintain our infrastructure and provide necessary town services,” Weston First Selectman Gayle Weinstein said Monday.

Ms. Weinstein’s budget proposal includes an operating budget of $11,689,696 (3.32% increase), a town capital budget of $733,728 (36% decrease), and a debt service budget of $6,554,000 (3.8% decrease), for a total gross budget of $18,977,424.

Ms. Weinstein said the overall net budget request after revenue offsets are calculated is $38,178 less than the current town budget.

Operating increases

Ms. Weinstein said public safety initiatives make up a large portion of the operating budget increase.

She is asking for a 10th police officer ($69,500 plus $33,500 in benefit costs), additional police equipment and training ($17,247), about $10,500 more funding for the paramedics and Fire Department, and additional hours for the fire marshal ($8,765 plus $25,442 in benefits).

“These public safety initiatives comprise 44% of the total requested operating budget increase,” Ms. Weinstein said.

Personnel expenses continue to account for much of budget increase, Ms. Weinstein said. These include wage adjustments, health insurance, pension costs, workers’ compensation, unemployment, and Social Security.

The town has not yet received its health insurance rates for next year, but it is estimating a 9% increase. Ms. Weinstein said she is budgeting only a 4% increase in spending because the town is currently “running a surplus of 5%” for health insurance.

The Senior Center will also cost the town more in the next budget year. Housed at South House at Hurlbutt Elementary School, the center has been covered under the Board of Education budget until now, which adds just over $15,000 (a 16.7% increase) for utilities and cleaning to the town’s Senior Center budget.

Operating reductions

The proposed budget also calls for some reduction in staff.

This includes a 20% reduction in the hours of the tax collector and a slight reduction of the hours for the tax collector’s assistant.

Also being proposed is a change to the fields and grounds maintenance post from a year-round, full-time position to full-time for seven months, followed by a seasonal layoff for five months.

Ms. Weinstein said the savings to salaries for these reductions is just under $33,500, and there will be additional savings in benefits and payroll tax costs.

Capital budget

Ms. Weinstein said in developing the town capital budget, she “took a strong stance on what’s needed as opposed to what’s wanted.”

The result is a capital request that is 36% lower than the current capital budget. However, last year’s capital budget was a 70.56% increase from the previous year.

But it’s understandable, Ms. Weinstein said, that the capital budget would be subject to more peaks and valleys because her philosophy is, “I don’t want to put money in a capital budget for something unless the project is to be done in that budget year. That’s pre-taxing the taxpayers, and I don’t like doing that.”

On the other hand, one thing that helped keep the capital budget down, Ms. Weinstein said, was that the town “prepaid several items that are normally in the capital budget. … This helped tremendously.”

The town was able to make payments toward things like the bridge replacement fund and the vehicle sinking fund using money left over when capital projects were closed out.

Ms. Weinstein said there were capital requests that were denied in the budget proposal, such as a new color copier for town hall and a new van for the animal control officer.

Debt service

The 2013-14 debt service budget is $6.554 million, a $262,268 decrease form the current year.

However, Ms. Weinstein said, “be reminded that for mill rate purposes, the value of a drop in fiscal year 2013-14 is valued at $95,073. The [current] budget utilized one-time revenues of $167,195 to effectively decrease the mill rate impact of fiscal year 2012-13 debt service payments by that amount.”

Town revenues

Town revenues are seeing increases in some areas and decreases in others.

The grand list — a compilation of all the taxable property in town — increased by only 0.18%, well below last year’s 0.7% increase and 0.5% the year before. This will generate only an additional $127,000 in revenues, Ms. Weinstein said.

To counter this, the estimated rate of tax collection is being revised from 97.6% to 97.7%.

The town is also changing its firefighter/EMS tax abatement assumptions from $75,000 to $80,000 to reflect actual increases over the last several years.

State aid is expected to drop, but by exactly how much is still unknown.

Ms. Weinstein said the town will “rely a bit more on direct operating expense offsets from the police and Park and Recreation special revenue accounts.” Her budget plan takes $10,000 from each account to offset operating expenses.

With the proposed budget, the first selectman is predicting the mill rate will increase by 21 cents, from $24.02 to $24.23 per $1,000 of assessed property value.

The selectmen received the first selectman’s budget proposal over the weekend. The board will review the budget request on Monday, Feb. 25, at 7:30 p.m. in the Meeting Room at town hall.

After reviewing the school budget the following night, the Board of Selectmen is expected to vote on both budgets on Wednesday, Feb. 27.

A summary of the first selectman’s proposed budget is expected to be available online this week at westonct.gov. A copy of the full budget proposal for public inspection will be available in the town clerk’s office.

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