Westport first selectman proposes $1.6M town budget decrease


First Selectman Jim Marpe officially presented his $75.7 million town budget for fiscal year 2020-21 to the finance board Wednesday night, which represented a 2.16 percent — about $1,600,000 — decrease from last year.

“What we’re finally reaping the benefit of is the hard-fought negotiations to restructure our health care plans and our pension plans,” Marpe said, adding the town was ahead of schedule in seeing the fiscal benefits.

The good news, he said, does not mean the town should stop its trend of aggressive budgement management. Pensions and health insurance and other employee benefits made up 27 percent of Marpe’s proposed budget with $18.8 million, down 18.3 percent from last year.

Like neighboring town Weston, recycling costs are a growing concern; currently, the town pays $85 a ton to dispose of waste, and could be paying $110 per ton next year.

“Food waste represents more than 20 percent of the weight of our solid waste,” he said. “If we can start to get people to compost, or repurpose that food, that lowers our tonage and the costs of our waste disposal.”

The community will also soon need a discussion about whether the town should continue absorbing this cost in the property tax structure, or set transfer station fees.

“Our budget as we’re presenting it to you assumes it’s built into the tax rate, but we need a community discussion,” Marpe said.

Board of Education Chairman Candice Savin and Interim Superintendent David Abbey also presented the schools’ $123 million budget for review.

Marpe’s proposed budget combined with the schools budget would amount to an overall budget of $214,649,428, a 1.2 percent increase from last year.

Savin noted there were three drivers in the education budget’s increase: The reopening of Coleytown Middle School this fall, addressing a facilities study, and a substantial increase in health care costs.

“Through a rigorous process, we have finalized a budget that is fiscally prudent, but retains the excellence that Westport residents expect of their schools,” she said. “To cut deeper would put that excellence at risk.”

Following the presentations, finance board members discussed items for further review in each budget, including transit funding for commuter shuttles to the train station. Last year, the finance board cut those funds, but the Representative Town Meeting later voted to restore them.

“Does Westport, who cares about the environment, want to have these large buses that are idling with no passengers or one passenger?” BOF member Sheri Gordon asked, citing environmental concerns.

Other members echoed her sentiments, arguing the buses were not regularly used and cost $28 per ride each time the town provided transportation to the train.

“If we can think about a way to get the people who are fervent about transportation to see our point, then we can accomplish what we want,” Lee Caney said. “If not, we’re going to lose again.”

On the education side, the finance board emphasized the need for more cost savings due to declining enrollment, especially with a proposed 44 percent jump in the schools’ facilities budget.

“There’s something in there that is a management or strategic problem that causes a jump like that,” Stern said.

The BOF will hold public hearings on the selectman’s budget on March 10, and March 11 if needed. A public hearing for the schools budget is scheduled for March 12.