Flat budget for Westport could mean layoffs, Joseloff warns
Published 2:46 pm, Friday, January 7, 2011
The Westport Board of Finance was blunt: The town's budget for the next fiscal year should stay at or near the current $173 million.
And the first selectman was just as clear: That could mean significant layoffs of town employees.
"We will work with you, but you have to start to make major restructuring," finance board member Kenneth Wirfel told First Selectman Gordon Joseloff at Wednesday night's meeting.
"I've taken very careful notes," Joseloff said, adding that telling him to look for "creative solutions" and restructure town government "simply means laying off maybe 100 people on the town side. ... Creative solutions are not going to do it; consolidation is not going to do it. You're talking wholesale layoffs."
He said to keep the 2011-12 budget flat, or even reduce it below current levels, means services will have to be reduced, and employees let go. "This is the only way we're going to be able to achieve wholesale reductions," he said.
Joseloff said the flat-spending plan could be adopted, but cautioned, "We're not turning out widgets; we're maintaining vital services."
Finance Chairman Helen Garten said it is the board's job to set the fiscal priorities for the town. "We're looking at reserves, we're looking at future costs," she said. "We'll respect your priorities. We're in a difficult position. Every town, every municipality is in this position. If we all work together, I think we will find a way through it."
Garten said she agreed with fellow board member Brian Stern that the town needs to strive for no growth in spending, while also increasing the reserve accounts. She said the town must also start looking at reforming benefits paid to town employees, like the pension and retiree medical benefits.
Joseloff plans to hold a "People's Budget Workshop" at 7:30 p.m. Monday in Town Hall for residents. The workshop will include brief presentations by department heads and a question-and-answer period, but will not cover the Board of Education budget.