May 20, 2013
Written by Macklin Reid
Friday, 20 April 2012 11:17
“At the end of the day, we’re talking about a difference of one tenth of one percent on an $81-million budget,” said Marty Heiser of the Board of Finance.
On their way to a $127 million budget that would reduce taxes by 1.15% next year, the finance board on April 4 approved a $100,000 cut to the $81-million school budget request, after rejecting a $200,000 school cut proposed by Mr. Heiser. Even with the $100,000 cut, the school budget is a more than a $2-million, or 2.60%, increase over this year’s $79 million in education spending.
Below is an interactive, annotated version of the budget legal notice that appeared in the April 19 print edition of the Ridgefield Press:
The finance board cut $190,000 from the selectmen’s $32-million operating budget for town departments, but $131,000 of that reflected a reduced allocation for the library, which will be running a partial operation out of a temporary location next year during its construction project.
The selectmen had expected and planned for the library cut if the referendum on its expansion passed, so the finance board made what amounts to a $60,000 cut from the town budget as adjusted to reflect the library’s changed plans.
Overall, last Wednesday night the finance board passed a $126,654,000 town and school budget that represents a 1.74% increase in spending. In addition to the $32.1-million town and $81.2-million school operating budgets, the $126.7-million allocation includes $13.3 million for debt service, down 3% from some $13.7 million this year.
The town and school operating budgets will go to voters at the annual budget referendum, planned for May 15.
School board Chairman Austin Drukker said he could accept the cut to education.
“One hundred thousand dollars in this economy, I think, is reasonable. I respect the work that they do,” he said of the finance board. “We come up with our best budget, and then they tell us what the town can afford.”
School Superintendent Deborah Low also viewed the cut as manageable.
“The $100,000 reduction should not affect the major program initiatives such as sixth grade world language or increased high school course loads and graduation requirements,” Ms. Low said.
Chairman Drukker noted that the selectmen were hoping to extend a gas line to two schools, Veterans Park and East Ridge, with $600,000 left over from last year’s $1.9-million energy efficiency bond issue for lighting refits and building tightening. If a town meeting approves the reallocation, and the gas line goes in before winter, it’ll mean lower heating costs.
“I think there’s a lot of assumptions with the gas line savings,” he said. “We’re going to be discussing this more: Where we can save the money? I’m sure we’ll find a spot to cause the least damage to the education process.”
Mr. Heiser had opened the finance board’s work with a motion to cut $200,000 from the school board’s request for a $81,369,000 budget.
“All of my kids have gone through the Ridgefield school system, I have nothing but love and respect for them,” Mr. Heiser said.
“In this tough economy, this rather marginal decrease in their requested increase should be something they can manage within the $81 million budget.”
Not everyone agreed.
“To pick this apart any more is only going to affect programs,” said Jessica Mancini.
“It seems to me a $200,000 cut is very arbitrary,” said Paul Sutherland.
Mr. Heiser’s motion went down 4-1, with his fellow Republican Jill Bornstein joining the board’s three Democrats in opposing it.
Ms. Bornstein then proposed the $100,000 school reduction, mirroring the non-binding recommendation on school spending made under charter by the selectmen.
“I’m inclined to go with the Board of Selectmen’s $100,000,” she said.
Looking at the numbers, she said, suggested that the schools might save more than they had projected by moving more employees to health savings accounts, they might get more from the state in excess cost reimbursement for high cost special education students, and there might be additional savings from lower electricity bills at the high school, where CL&P’s overcharging was found midyear.
“When I look at the HSA, ECR, when I heard how they estimated the numbers on CL&P, it seems to me $100,000 is not unreasonable.” Ms. Bornstein said.
Chairman Dave Ulmer backed Ms. Bornstein.
“If I thought the $100,000 would touch programs, I don’t think I’d be for it,” he said. “I don’t think it needs to go to programs, or the people they need to run their operation.”
Mr. Sutherland, a former school board member, supported the cut reluctantly.
“As Marty said, $100,000 is less than one tenth of one percent of an $81-million budget,” he said. “I hope before the Board of Education and the superintendent cut anything that affects the students, they’d come back to us — they can ask for a supplemental appropriation.”
Ms. Mancini held firm for school board’s original request, making the vote 4-1.
“This is a good, sound budget,” she said.
On the selectmen’s budget for town departments — police, fire, highway, parks and recreation, the town hall administration — the finance board made a reduction of $190,000, including $131,900 for the library’s lowered projected expenses.
Ms. Bornstein, who made the motion, said, “In my sense there are several areas there’s opportunity to reduce.”
She said spoke of further savings at the library, where she felt expense estimates looked high, and also cited the selectmen’s proposal for an increase in their “contingency” account for unexpected expenses, which they proposed increasing from $54,000 to $71,000.
The budget passed 4-1 with a dissent from Ms. Mancini. “I just think they’ve done a great job vetting this, and we’ve got to stop picking the cherries,” she said.
The $32,103,000 town departments budget is a 1.96% spending increase over this year. Before the finance board’s cut, the spending increase was 2.57%.
First Selectman Rudy Marconi didn’t object to the size of the cut, but he did have concerns. “Sixty thousand dollars out of a $30-million budget is nothing. Can we go ahead and do that? Of course we can,” he said. “And I don’t have an issue with the amount of money, but I do take exception with how that number was arrived at...
“Their cuts were based on specific line items they felt were not really accurate,” he said. “They do not manage the town’s day-to-day operations — that is the Board of Selectmen and first selectman, specifically. And I take exception to the fact that so much time was spent looking into the minutiae of each individual line, and then to question it without having attended one of our budget meeting work sessions. It was arbitrary and without any foundation ... People need to read the charter, and to comply with what it says in terms of their responsibilities.”
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