After meeting Tuesday to review the town’s proposed 2013 budget prepared by the Board of Selectmen, members of the Board of Finance spent Wednesday evening questioning First Selectman William F. Brennan and department heads about specific items they’ve requested be funded.
Overall, the finance board’s members seemed in agreement with the proposed budget, although towards the end of the meeting board chairman Warren Serenbetz told Brennan that, with the current year’s combined operating and capital budgets up 3.4 percent from the previous year, and the proposed 2013 combined budgets to be up 2.71 percent from this year, the town will be spending more than the increase in the U.S. consumer price index — currently 2.4 percent — two years in a row.
(The core CPI index, which excludes volatile food and energy prices, rose 0.1 percent in February and is up 2.2 percent over the last 12 months,
according to the most recent figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.)
Brennan replied that after three “lean years” of cutting, there are in any of our budgets, and residents “continue to expect high levels of service and a quality of life.”
As proposed, the town’s operating budget next year would be $29.4 million, an increase of 3.86 percent from this year, and the capital budget would be $1.2 million, a reduction of 19.93 percent from this year.
During a presentation of the proposed budget, Brennan said the major drivers of the capital budget increase are employee contractural compensation increases, increased medical insurance costs, and increased pension and OPEB (Other Post-Employment Benefits) contributions.
Capital budget increases, Brennan said, are the result of vehicle and equipment replacement, new information systems, tax assessor revaluation costs, and police and fire safety equipment purchases.
The town’s current mill rate of 20.85 mills would increase by 1.98 percent to about 21.26 mills if the selectmen’s budget is approved in its current form. (A mill rate is equal to $1 of tax for each $1,000 of a property’s assessed value.)
The goal of the Board of Finance is to cap mill rate increases to 1.75 percent per year.
Brennan told the board that of 153 authorized positions, the town employs 149 people, which is the lowest number of employees per 1,000 residents, compared to Greenwich, Ridgefield, Westport, Trumbull, New Canaan, Darien and Wilton.
Brennan noted that, unlike most years, the town is currently in contract negotiations with all four of its employee unions, so the proposed budget is based on incomplete knowledge of next year’s salary costs.
Although the intent of the meeting was to ask questions about the proposed operating budget, much of the session dealt with the selectmen’s proposed five-year special , which they intend to fund through the capital budget by selling bonds.
Brennan said the town has not authorized any bonded capital expenses in four years, but for 2013 it intends to issue bonds for six projects, including the road paving program.
He said the program would spend $1.7 million a year over five years to enable the town to catch up on repairing its roads, 40 percent of which have not been repaved for 20 or more years.
Board member Lynne Vanderslice said she thought the proposed paving program was underfunded, and questioned why the town wasn’t more ambitious in the miles of road it wants to improve each year.
Brennan said the plan was based on the fact the town has a number of capital projects it needs to fund, and how much of a tax increase Wilton residents will accept at this time.
Our original cost for the program was higher, Brennan said, “but this is prudently balanced and reasonable,” adding, “This is a good start to fix the problem.”
During an interview, Brennan said Wilton has a triple-A credit rating and has never had a budget voted down by the town’s residents in the last ten years.
In response to a question from board member Gail Lavielle, who participated in the meeting by phone, Serenbetz said the town is well under its bonding capability.
“It’s phenomenal how much we could bond if we wanted to,” Serenbetz said.
A public hearing on the proposed 2013 Board of Education budget will be held March 26 at 7:30 p.m. at . The next night, a public hearing will be held at 7:30 p.m. at Middlebrook School on the proposed 2013 selectmen’s budget.