Llodra Proposes 0.3% Increase For 2014-15 Budget

Llodra says she's "struggled to keep the budget as close to zero as possible."

First Selectman Pat Llodra. (Patch File Photo)
First Selectman Pat Llodra. (Patch File Photo)
First Selectman Pat Llodra presented the first proposal of the 2014 budget season Wednesday night, asking the town for a $116,996 — or 0.3% — increase on last year’s municipal budget. The total budget amount would be $39,141,519.

If approved, it would be a budget with 2.8% more debt service and 0.6% less municipal service than last year. It would also be the lowest budget increase for the town since 2010, after a 3.3% increase last year, a 0.6% increase in 2012 and a 1.3% increase in 2011.

"Each year, we’ve struggled to keep our budget as close to zero as possible,” Llodra said. "We’ve been struggling to capture, in some way, enough resources to meet the needs of the community.”

The budget is intended to rein in municipal services to make sure the town is covering its required finances, Llodra said. Fringe benefits for town employees, including medical and pension, increased by more than $230,000. Insurance costs increased by $30,000.

The town would cut $16,699 from its wages and salaries, providing 1.75% salary increases while pulling funding from three unfilled positions in communications, parks and recreation and the police department. The town has eliminated or unfunded 15 positions since the 2009 budget, according to figures prepared by town finance director Robert Tait.

"For the most part, you’re going to see the bottom lines for these departments is the wage increase or less,” Llodra said. There’s no increase in programs, no increase in supplies, nothing.”

In addition, the town would again cap its expenditures for roads at $1,000,000, half the amount recommended in the CIP (Capital Improvement Plan.)

"We’re trying to keep roads in our operational budget, but we’re to the point where I think it’s almost intolerable,” Llodra said. “You’re going to see a significantly increased request next year. There’s no other places we can go to find money to put into roads. We’re bottomed out."

This time last year, Llodra was proposing a $731,155 increase in what would become the 2013-14 budget. That budget failed at its first referendum and was eventually amended to $39.02 million before passing.

Since then, some residents and officials have emphasized the importance of bringing the increase as close to zero as possible. Seniors concerned about recent revaluations and increasing tax bills told town officials they would oppose budget increases at an October forum at Newtown High School.

"Our only recourse at this point is the ballot box for the school budget, town budget and town officials," said Ken Gillette, a resident of Liberty at Newtown, an age-restricted community. "I think you're going to find we're going to use the ballot box.”

‘As Close to Zero As Possible'

The budget includes a 1.75% wage increase from last year, a number Llodra said she wishes could be higher.

“We’re losing some really good people in our department because we’re not competitive with our wages anymore,” she said. “At some point, we’re going to have to go to the community and say, ‘We can’t do this anymore.’ If you’re not willing to increase the municipal budget, you’re not going to have good people in your departments and your roads are going to fall apart.”

She cited the example of a 2.05% yearly average increase among non-union employees, a number she said was significantly below yearly 3% cost-of-living increases.

“Not one of our unions has fared well,” she said. “I don’t think any of us should be proud of that … We’ve downsized our staff considerably, and we’re putting increasing pressure on our employees. This would never hold muster in the private sector. Never.”

Llodra said the town is managing the increase by not filling three approved town positions in communications, police and parks and recreation.

“We had to do that in order to keep this budget as close to zero as possible,” she said. “I can’t cut any more staff, and I’m horrified to think I would even have to do that. In fact, we need to add staff, and in a couple years we’re going to be desperate to add staff.” 

Wages were just one component of the budget proposal held low due to increasing non-negotiable costs like insurance and debt, Llodra said. The 2.8% increase in debt service makes up about $10.34 million, or about a quarter of the total budget.

“That’s not something we can make any different,” said Llodra. “That’s our debt. We’re responsible for that.”

About half is typically school-related, Llodra said, the other half dealing with municipal projects like Fairfield Hills and purchase of open space. 

Detailed budget presentations containing specific budget summaries, original department requests and spreadsheets for each municipal department will go online at the town’s website Thursday, Llodra said.

Followup budget meetings are scheduled for Jan. 29, Feb. 3 and Feb. 10, when the board will go into depth on each department in the budget.

Interim Superintendent John Reed will present his proposed education budget 6:30 p.m. Thursday at Newtown High School. 
Bruce Walczak TheNewtownRooster.com January 23, 2014 at 04:15 PM
Speaking of speed bumps the data is now available: almost 1800 vehicles a day have been diverted by Pat Llodra from Queen Street to neighboring roads. Mr. Geckle, her fellow Republican Town Committee member, must be pleased with her. That's how Newtown works,scratch my back and I'll scratch yours.
John Castigo January 23, 2014 at 04:31 PM
How can a town as small as Newtown need 39M to function? It doesn't feel like a 39M dollar town.
Bruce Walczak TheNewtownRooster.com January 23, 2014 at 05:07 PM
The capital improvement plan also has $150000 in it to repave queen street. I can think of lots of streets that need paving more than queen, especially since they diverted 35 percent of the vehicles to other roads. Maybe it just be cheaper for the town to close the road.
Thomas Crafts January 23, 2014 at 05:19 PM
Queen street? Are you kidding! 15% of our road money is going to that street every year. Somebody important must live there.
Pat Murry January 23, 2014 at 05:21 PM
Keep up the good work Ms Llodra, common sense is working.


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