Finance board approves $80M town budget
WESTPORT — In the face of state fiscal challenges, the finance board this week approved a town budget with just the slightest of increases.
The budget will allow for a crackdown on rule breakers at Compo Beach and maintain a controversial senior transportation service.
In a series of votes on different line items, the finance board approved a $80,390,686 town budget for Fiscal Year 2019, a 1.2 percent increase over last year’s town budget. The Board of Finance has yet to approve school budget, which represents 62 percent of the town’s $210 million total proposed budget.
“Everything that we need to do to basically fend off the problems the state has and the problems the region has,” Marpe said on March 12 before presenting his budget to the BOF, who does not expect this year’s budget will result in an increase in the town’s mill rate, which has remained flat for years.
The board approved a town budget almost identical to Marpe’s proposed budget but reached sticking points when it came to the budgets for the parks and recreation department and transit district.
With an increase of 8.86 percent, the parks budget increased more than any other department with a total budget of $6.2 million, a $502,000 increase over last year.
The larger-than-normal parks and recreation budget came largely as a result of increased funds slated for Compo Beach improvements, such as upgrades to the beach pavilion and bathroom, in reaction to resident concerns about beach overcrowding, maintenance, and safety last summer.
Included in the parks and recreation budget is $109,000 for police services at the beach, which will come in the form of a police officer patrolling the beach six days a week during the summer beach season.
“I was concerned about the parks and rec budget and the (nearly) $110,000 of police overtime that is going into their budget,” finance board member James Westphal said. He suggested the police department redeploy officers from other parts of town to the beach as opposed to bringing another person on.
Police Chief Foti Koskinas said for a town of Westport’s size the police department already does not have enough offers to ensure full coverage following years of personnel cuts to his department.
“We’re not trying to create a police state or anything along those lines,” Parks and Recreation Director Jennifer Fava said, but noted that after years of lax enforcement of the rules and a public increasingly resistant to following beach rules, her department needs someone trained to deal with difficult people.
BOF Chairman Brian Stern said Westport’s many parks are mismanaged and not properly cared for and suggested increased funds for general park maintenance in the future. In the end, the BOF voted unanimously to approve the parks and recreation budget.
The only budget the BOF did not unanimously approve was the budget for town’s transit district, which provides public transportation commuter shuttles for residents to the train stations and transportation services for seniors and those with disabilities in town. The district’s budget was proposed for $400,000, representing 0.5 percent of the town’s overall budget.
“I know from talking to many people that you could uber from almost anywhere in town for $10 dollars to the train-station and the fact that we’re effectively paying $23 dollars for each ride just doesn’t make sense. As time evolves, transportation’s going to evolve, and municipalities need to evolve,” BOF member Sheri Gordon said.
Marpe and BOF member Michael Rea defended the transit district saying it adds to the town’s brand which entices people to move to town and by effect helps the town’s budget by increasing its grand list. In the end, the district’s budget passed 5-2, with Gordon and Westphal voting against approval of the district’s budget.
On the savings side, the town was able to cut 2.2 percent, a total of $555,000, of the budget from last year on pension costs, OPEB and health insurance contributions as a result of employee benefit renegotiations last year.