The Board of Selectmen started its review of next year's proposed municipal budget, which is on track to increase by 2-percent from this year's adopted budget, with much of the additional money slated to pay for increased debt service costs and contractual salary raises.
The board, which met Thursday at the Municipal Center, also agreed to add $25,000 in the capital non-recurring account to fund a "town pooled vehicle acquisition program," which would allow for the more timely replacement of municipally owned vehicles, officials said.
The addition would bring the total municipal request to $38,350,003. The Board of Education met separately Thursday at Newtown High School to begin its review of the superintendent's proposed nearly .
The town increase is attributable to a sizable increase in debt service, about half a million dollars, to begin paying off the $14 million bond issued this year – $10 million for the Newtown High School expansion; $1.5 million for the Newtown Middle School roof; and about $2.5 million for the new animal shelter, Sandy Hook water main extension, Litchfield Hall demolition at Fairfield Hills and other projects.
Some observers argue the town budget unfairly includes all of the debt service costs, particularly because the majority is used to fund school projects, however, the buildings are considered municipally owned and also used to host town recreational programs, elections, emergency shelter and other uses by the general population.
Excluding debt service from the request but including the $25,000 in additional capital non-recurring funds approved Thursday, the proposed budget increase only is .95-percent more than what was approved last year.
Officials said they have been able to keep a tight lid on expenditures with only a few additions.
In fact, the town is estimating its expenditures this year to end up less than the budget that had been adopted, through savings such as a likely decrease in insurance claims, reduction in office supplies and an unfilled salary position. If the projections are correct, the proposed expenditures for next year is closer to 2-percent – or about $600,000 – more than what the town is estimating it will end up spending this year, excluding debt service.
The bulk of additional proposed expenses is in areas, such as contractual salary increases – about 2-percent – and additional repairs in the highway budget and purchases by the technology department, including a "core fiber switch" for the Municipal Center network.
While officials said wages and salaries are expected to increase by $214,417, and fringe benefits, mostly in the form of medical benefits, by $107,447, they also have been able to find savings, such as leaving a position in the assessor's office unfilled and increasing the hours in the tax collector's office to allow for cross-use.
First Selectman Pat Llodra also has implemented a shifting of responsibility and costs at maintaining Fairfield Hills to individual departments, such as the police department for security and parks and recreation for landscaping, which officials said has led to the reduction of operating expenses at the campus by about $92,000.
The selectmen is expected to review in detail the public works, public safety and other departments at a meeting 7:30 p.m. Mon., Jan. 23 at the .