Joseloff proposes '14 budget with 2.3% spending hike
Updated 6:51 am, Tuesday, February 12, 2013
First Selectman Gordon Joseloff on Monday unveiled a $193 million budget proposed for the 2013-14 fiscal year, a 2.3 percent increase over this year's expenditures.
Joseloff's proposed budget includes a municipal spending package of about $75 million, 2 percent higher than current spending.
The largest share of the remaining overall budget is an approximately $104 million spending package for the town's public schools, endorsed last week by the Board of Education. The town will also appropriate about $13 million next year to service school debt.
"I think it's a very responsible budget and one that addresses our needs," Joseloff told the Westport News Monday night. "It moves us forward in a responsible, measured way. We're not trying to bite off more than we can chew. We're just trying to make Westport better than it is."
The prospective budget continues a recent trend of modest annual increases in town spending. In each of the last two years, the Board of Finance and the Representative Town Meeting have approved town budget increases of about 2 percent.
The Police, Fire and Public Works departments again comprise the three highest-funded departments in Joseloff's recommended spending plan.
The proposed 2013-14 Police Department budget totals approximately $7.8 million, equating to an approximately 2 percent uptick in annual spending.
"I think we've submitted a remarkably responsible budget," Police Chief Dale Call said Monday night during a budget workshop held by the Board of Finance. "I think we've done a pretty good job keeping costs down."
Under Joseloff's proposed budget, Call's department would add one police officer to its ranks to create one additional youth officer position in the detective bureau.
The police budget also includes a $15,000 allocation for the town to participate in a juvenile review board with Norwalk, which would serve as an alternative to referring Westport youth offenders under age 18 to local juvenile courts.
Joseloff's budget requests approximately $8.4 million for the Fire Department, a 2 percent spending increase over the current fiscal year. During the next fiscal year, Westport fire officials are considering a plan for Westport to take over dispatch responsibilities for New Canaan's Fire Department. Such an arrangement would not result in additional costs for Westport; instead, New Canaan would likely pay the town between $65,000 and $70,000 annually for the dispatch services, according to fire officials.
"We looked at New Canaan as an easy fit to come in and a good way to get our feet wet with this," said Deputy Fire Chief Bob Kepchar.
Joseloff also advocated for relocating New Canaan fire dispatch operations to Westport, pointing out that state officials are pushing municipalities to consolidate their emergency-services dispatch operations.
"We'd rather start now, learn on our own terms, and then we'll be ready when the state says you've got to do it," Joseloff said.
Westport fire and police officials, meanwhile, confirmed at Monday's meeting that they aim to eventually combine their two departments' dispatch operations into one center.
Joseloff's budget allocates about $9.3 million for the Department of Public Works, an annual spending increase of almost 3 percent. That appropriation includes $265,000 for tree maintenance, approximately $170,000 more than current-year spending on the program. The additional expenditures would allow the town to move from a part-time to a full-time tree warden and also hire a tree contractor three days a week. Motivated by the widespread tree damage caused last year by Superstorm Sandy and a renewed community focus on the landscape of the town center, a number of town officials have argued that the town needs a more robust oversight of trees on town land.
"You'd start off by getting control of what you have," Public Works Director Steve Edwards said Monday. "The tree warden, the first year he's going to look more as to an assessment of what he has and setting up a plan on how to deal with it. Once he gets it under control, we'd like to see a transition into more of a planting regime. If I'm taking down 20 trees, let's get replanted 10 trees."
The Board of Finance did not take any votes Monday on the spending proposals, but it will continue its review of Joseloff's plan at budget workshops scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday night in Town Hall. The finance board will vote next month on Joseloff's and the Board of Education's proposed 2013-14 budgets.
Joseloff is presenting his eighth and final municipal budget proposal as first selectman this year, after announcing that he would not seek a third term as the town's chief elected official in the November election.
"It seems to be a responsible, well-thought-out budget," Board of Finance Chairman Avi Kaner told the Westport News after Monday's meeting. "We'll have to factor in the competing requests and, if necessary, prioritize, but we're very early on in the process."
Board of Finance Vice Chairwoman Helen Garten, a possible candidate to succeed Joseloff as first selectman, also expressed support for Joseloff's proposed budget.
"Police, fire and public works were very responsible, as always," she said. "They were all budgeted very carefully."
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