Tuesday, February 12, 2013
Finance Board: Round One on Budget Talks
By James Lomuscio
Westport’s Board of Finance tonight heard budget requests from the police, fire and public works departments as the board went head to head for two-a-half hours, scrutinizing First Selectman Gordon Joseloff’s proposed $73.5 million municipal budget for 2013-14, up about 2 percent over the current year.
Westport First Selectman Gordon Joseloff and Public Works Director Steve Edwards discuss the budget tonight with Board of Finance members. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) James Lomuscio for WestportNow.com
The finance board has scheduled talks with other department heads for Tuesday and Wednesday nights at Town Hall.
The Police Department’s total proposed budget—$9.56 million—includes $7.84 million in salaries that are contractually up 2.2 percent, the Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Department, the Animal Control Officer and new police vehicles.
Police Chief Dale Call noted that during last year’s budget negotiations, his department cut three positions, and next year, “we would like one back.” Call said he hopes to hire another youth officer to “give us the opportunity to have two officers in the school system.”
The chief said his department also needs four new police cars, one of them unmarked. Call said he favored the more fuel efficient, V-6 Ford Police Interceptor as opposed to the eight-cylinder Dodge Charger, popular in many departments, but a “maintenance nightmare.”
As finance board members pored over the budget request, one area singled out was $15,000 for a Juvenile Review Board in cooperation with Norwalk. Call and Deputy Chief Foti Koskinas described the program as minimal cost and said it would provide needed alternatives to sending offending juveniles directly to Bridgeport Superior Court.
“This is a way not for kids to go to court,” Call said. “It’s a reliable option for us.”
Another budget area Call mentioned was a $27,000 request for a new Animal Control Officer vehicle
Fire Chief Andrew Kingsbury’s more than $10.01 million proposed budget, a 2.7 percent increase over last year, also got a close review from the finance board. Salaries comprised more $8.45 million of that amount.
Going line by line, finance board members homed in on specific items, such as $36,000 for a heavy apparatus jack used to lift fire trucks to work on them. Kingsbury and Lt. Brett Kirby also explained the need for new laptop computers mounted in fire trucks.
“We need to upgrade the computer in our fire trucks,” Kingsbury noted, saying that the existing laptops are eight years old.
The new laptops, to be mounted in trucks, allow firefighters to pre-plan access to a home, understand its layout and locate nearby fire hydrants.
The hardware would cost about $56,000, Kingsbury said, plus $30,00 for the software. The chief acknowledged that the laptops are more expensive than conventional ones due to their rugged nature. They are able to withstand being manhandled by firefighters’ wet gloves, he said.
The Board of Finance also studied the Department of Public Works’ $9.33 million proposed budget, a 2.7 percent increase though the salary line, 2.87 million, showed a decrease of .7 percent.
Stephen Edwards, public works director, pointed out the department’s employees have steadily decreased over the past 20 years, dropping from 35 to 16. Today, many of the departments services, such as snow plowing, are done by outside contractors.
Finance board member Helen Garten questioned a huge increase, nearly 300 percent, in the request for tree maintenance, $265,000 compared to $96,525 in 2013. The proposed amount included more than $200,000 for contracted services and $41,000 to hire a full-time tree warden.
“Frankly, we’re woefully behind area towns, and frankly it has come back to haunt us,” Joseloff said in defense of the request to trim and remove trees on town property or in the town’s right of way.
“It’s the town’s responsibility to do the best we can.”
Comments: Comment Policy
I’ll a give cheer to DPW. While Bridgeport is still digging out, Westport roads were mostly clear by Saturday afternoon. 16 Hard working folks and their contractors. THANKS.
As for the police vehicles. No reason for the Dodge Chargers, we don’t need gas guzzling race cars around town, And they have a small interior as well. (not that I have had the experience of being in the back seat).
How about NO increase to the spending? In fact—how about we lower the budget by 1 to 5%. Everyone agree to lower their department spending by 1 to 5%. Not hard—just takes work. Every year the budget does not have to increase. Effeciency and productivity should easily drive savings.
Fine, as long as Education is included.
Arthur—given out $100 million education budget—it would seem we could find a 1, 2 or 3% savings. No doubt. And do it without impacting our wonderful schools. Every year we should not see the full budget go up—it has become a right of passage.