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Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Finance Board Holds Second Budget Round

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By James Lomuscio

Westport’s Board of Finance sat down with representatives from five more municipal budget areas tonight, the board’s second round scrutinizing First Selectman First Gordon Joseloff’s proposed $73.5 million municipal budget for 2013-14, up about 2 percent over the current year.

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Parks and Recreation Director Stuart McCarthy (r) addresses a Board of Finance work session tonight as (l-r) Finance Director Gary Conrad and First Selectman Gordon Joseloff listen. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) James Lomuscio for WestportNow.com

Officials from Human Services, Information Technology, Parks and Recreation, the Westport Public Library and Earthplace, all faced specific questions linked by a common theme—the goal of increased efficiency while being fiscally prudent.

Barbara Butler, human services director, requested a $1.017 million budget for next year, a more than $17,000 increase, or a 1.7 percent jump. Butler said the need for computer software costing $5,000 and increased instructor fees and supply costs, $2,000 each, at the Center for Senior Activities were among the reasons for the increase.

Eileen Zhang, IT director, asked for a $761,726 budget for next year, $50,000 more than the current year, a 7.03 percent increase. When asked by Avi Kaner, finance board chairman, about the need for the increase, Zhang said it would be used for new projects and hiring a project manager.

“This department is dynamic as a whole because every department presents its information through this website,” Zhang said. “This website, I truly believe, is our town’s brand, a very subtle marketing tool.”

Stuart McCarthy, parks and recreation director, presented a more than $4.54 million proposed budget, a $119,876 or 2.7 percent increase over this year. Two areas that McCarthy said justified the increase were contract services to supplement the department’s workforce and maintenance and development. The department employs 23 full time employees and 450 seasonal staff.

Kaner took the opportunity to thank Parks and Recreation for generating its own revenue from the sale of beach stickers, hand passes, and an array of athletic programs.

“We’re looking at $4.9 million expected in revenues from a department that costs us $4.5 million,” Kaner said. “So, it’s self funding.”

Still McCarthy noted that revenues could be higher, saying that this year’s income was down 9 percent from the previous year. Finance board members suggested that perhaps the department, for example, could lower the price its golf passes or explore lower cost weekend only passes to increase participation.

The Westport Public Library’s proposed more than $4.24 million budget shows an increase of $66,244, or 1.59 percent in town funding requested. Russ Baris, chairman of the library’s Board of Trustees finance committee, noted that a new integrated library system and a radio frequency identification system for books will boost efficiency and cut costs.

Earthplace was the last group to go before the Board of Finance, asking for a $95,000 town budget contribution for next year, up $10,000 or 11.76 percent.

Julia Mally, board president of the nonprofit that has received a town subsidy for years, said that the nature center has operated on a deficit for 10 years and is currently reorganizing and looking for ways to attract more members.

Kaner suggested that Earthplace should have a sign posted on the Connecticut Turnpike, as well as the Merritt Parkway.The Earthplace representatives said their request for such signs had been denied by the Department of Transportation.

“You’re on the right track,” Joseloff told Earthplace representatives about the plans to reorganize. “You’re going to come back better for it.

“It’s a modest request,” he told the finance board about the $10,000 requested increase. “It’s a vote of confidence in what they are doing. That’s why I endorsed it.”

Posted 02/13 at 04:24 AM 

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