The numbers are officially in, and now it's the Board of Finance's turn to shape the $201 million municipal spending package for 2014-15 -- and the taxes to pay for it -- that takes effect July 1.
The finance panel Wednesday night heard presentations on both the town and Board of Education operating budgets for the new fiscal year, totaling $201,025,473, according to First Selectman Jim Marpe.
That, Marpe said, represents a 3.89 percent over the current fiscal year. "We began this overall budget process in both the town and Board of Education under the cloud of concern related to the funding of the Board of Ed health insurance program," he said.
"The first pass on the budget of both organizations presents a budget increase that would be very difficult for the taxpayers to accept," he added. "I'm glad to say that both the town and Board of Ed have worked hard in the past few weeks to better understand the real financial implications of the education health-care insurance problem and to adjust all the budgets to reflect a more acceptable approach."
He said he had asked the town's department heads to prepare their budgets in a way that reflected the "Citizen-Centric" theme that he had discussed in his inauguration speech. That he said is "making Westport a town that continues to work on behalf of all citizens and that is responsive to their priorities: one that is looking for efficient, effective, innovative and affordable ways to deliver and improve town services," he said.
Marpe detailed a $78.3 million town budget, a slight decrease from his original $78.5 million proposal and 2.8 percent or $2.1 million more than the current budget of $76,117,323.
"One of the major drivers in this increase is the pension and other post employment benefits and health-care insurance," he explained. He said the town is "proceeding on the slow process through labor contract negotiations to reform its employee benefit plans."
"Three out of the six plans now offer only a defined contribution pension plan to new employees," he said, as opposed to traditional pension plans, which had been provided in the past.
He said the financial impact of moving to the defined contribution pension plans "will come over time as employees turn over." He also said shifting to Health Savings Account programs "has enabled us to begin reducing our contributions to the health insurance budget."
While there were spending increases proposed for most town departments, expected savings from contract negotiations with the town's municipal solid waste disposal provider decreased the Department of Public Works' $9.3 million budget by $131,642, a 1.40 percent savings.
Marpe also said he is requesting a new position of operations director who will report to him. The position would be responsible for managing special projects, among other things. "During the budget process I identified at least 10 projects that would benefit from the focused attention of such a position," he told the finance board members.
Board of Education Chairwoman Elaine Whitney presented the proposed school budget of $110.3 million for 2014-15, which is $6.1 million and a 5.9 percent increase over current spending.
She also addressed school officials' request for a special appropriation of $1,088,709 to cover the shortfall in the health-care fund in this year's budget. Of that amount, $355,009 is needed to cover a projected net shortfall in the current budget with $733,700 used to "re-establish a 5 percent risk corridor," or safety net for the account.
She also said that the "specific dollar amount of our appropriation request may be adjusted based on the most current information." A negative variance in the medical insurance costs for retirees could add $235,000 to the projected deficit for 2013-14. Read Full Article
An external audit by McGladery LLC is still being done to determine the exact amount of that shortfall.
Whitney told the finance board that if their request for the special appropriation is approved, the school system's budget increase would then be 4.1 percent.
Following the budget presentations, finance board vice chairman, Brian Stern, said that productivity will be a key element in his assessment of the spending proposals. He said the finance board should focus on why people are being hired, and that hiring "has to be justified."
He also raised concern about the general increase in the town and education spending over the past 10 years, which he described as "absolutely unsustainable."
"We have to live within our means and the job of the Board of Finance is to spend what we can afford," he said.
A vote by the Board of Finance on both budgets is slated for March 20. The vote on the special appropriation to cover this year's school budget deficit could take longer, depending on when the external audit is completed.