Finance panel reviews Westport's tight spending plans for 2011-12
Updated 1:36 pm, Thursday, March 3, 2011
Reacting to recent calls by the Board of Finance to exercise fiscal restraint, First Selectman Gordon Joseloff and Board of Education Chairman Don O'Day detailed for the board their proposed budgets for the 2011-12 fiscal year that seek modest spending increases.
"We are on the road to improvement," Joseloff told the finance board Wednesday night. "We don't know if it will last. These are still times of sacrifice."
Joseloff is seeking approximately $67 million for the coming year's municipal budget, while the school board has requested an operating budget of about $98 million. Those requests represent respective spending increases of 3 and 2 percent over this year's allocations.
While O'Day struck a conciliatory tone in his presentation, the first selectman expressed dissatisfaction with the finance board's directive to restrain spending.
"It is an austere budget because that is the direction that you gave me," he told the board. "I don't think it is a particularly responsible budget. It once again gives short thrift to our infrastructure."
Citing his desire to invest in paving of town roads and other capital projects, Joseloff said such spending had been scaled back to meet commitments to town employee pension funds and the Other Post-Employment Benefits (OPEB) fund, which pays for retired town employee medical costs.
Joseloff's budget fully funds the town's required $9.4 million contribution to the town employee pension funds. The budget's total allocation to the OPEB fund, however, falls more than $1 million short of the required $4 million annual contribution.
The first selectman acknowledged he would face criticism for not fully funding the OPEB fund, but argued against such a move, contending that it would entail withdrawing more money from town reserves, further spending cuts, or tax increases.
Employee salaries and benefit costs also drove the increase in the proposed education budget. O'Day said the importance of the town's schools warrant the proposed spending.
"Our schools are the driver, the main attraction to the town of Westport," he said. "They support our property values."
Not reflected in the proposed 2011-12 budgets is a plan to consolidate certain municipal and school services. As negotiations progress between municipal and education officials, O'Day said the move could entail layoffs of "not just a few people."
Including capital expenses and debt service, the 2011-12 municipal and education budgets total about $180 million, an approximate 2 percent increase from the current year total.
Formal budget hearings for the municipal and education budgets are scheduled for March 22, 23 and 24. The Board of Finance will conduct a line-by-line review of the budgets during those hearings and will vote on the budgets at the end of those meetings.