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Monday, May 02, 2016

RTM Approves $91.4 Million Town Budget

By James Lomuscio

Westport’s Representative Town Meeting (RTM) tonight wrapped up hundreds of hours of work by town bodies, unanimously approving a $91,431,708 municipal budget for 2016-17 —a .57 percent increase over the current year.

The vote followed a detailed presentation by Board of Finance Chairman Brian Stern, whose board unanimously approved the town’s and the school board’s budgets on March 15.

“The town is in good financial shape,” Stern said, adding that uncertainty over state cuts to education was something already being discussed.

He cited a strong tax base, increased revenues, positive asset valuation, employee benefits shifts to health savings accounts and projected long-term debt reduction.

Stern said there was a $1 to 2.5 million risk to the town through state aid reduction—“1 percent of the total budget we have here.”

Still, he said, “We agree on the budget and the tax mill rate.”

“Whatever the hit in Hartford, we will know by then, and by next year we need to integrate them into the budget formally,” Stern said.

He also speculated about possible cost savings with other towns for next year, including the sharing of a tax collector with Weston, an assessor and HAZMAT.

“These are the sorts of things we can think of,” he said, cautioning town and school officials from “over hiring over the summer.”

Jeff Wieser, chairman of the RTM’s Finance Committee, followed, saying, “We’ve viewed the budget very positively from the start,” with his committee giving it unanimous approval.

“All departments showed a disciplined budgeting approach,” Wieser said.” …As Brian’s optimism pointed out, things are in pretty good shape, It’s all pretty good news.

“We’re chipping away at OPEB (other post employment benefits) obligations, and our pensions are well funded.”

The RTM approved $1,502,186 for Railroad Parking, a $135,500 reduction from the Board of Finance-approved $1,637,686 budget.

The reason for the reduction, put forth in a motion by RTM member Peter Gold and approved by a 30 to 1 vote, was that the previous Railroad Parking budget inadvertently included an older pension and benefits model.

Town Finance Director Gary Conrad said the reduction would be absorbed since the former Deputy Police Chief Foti Koskinas, now the police chief, would no longer manage Railroad Parking, but it instead would be overseen by an operations manager. In addition, one officer retired.

In addition, the RTM unanimously approved $4,779,000 for the Sewer Fund and $193,283 for the Wakeman Town Farm.

RTM Moderator Eileen Flug said that the legislative body is scheduled to vote Tuesday night on the finance board’s recommended Board of Education’s $112.607 million operating budget, a 1.29 percent increase over the current year.

Following that vote, the RTM will vote Tuesday on the total town operating budget request for 2016-17, $203, 904,095, a 0.97 percent increase overall.

Brian Stern said that following the legislative body’s approvals, the Board of Finance on Wednesday, May 18, will set the town’s mill rate.

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Posted 05/02/16 at 09:40 PM  Permalink



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