Buoyed by increased tax revenues and reduced expenditures, Westport's town government closed the 2011-12 fiscal year with a $2.3 million budget surplus, according to Finance Director Gary Conrad.

Total town expenditures in the fiscal year ending June 30 came in $950,000 under budget, according to unaudited results released Wednesday by Conrad. In October 2011, First Selectman Gordon Joseloff had predicted the town could save $500,000 during the 2011-12 fiscal year.

Savings totaling $130,000 in general government departments, $140,000 in public safety, $300,000 in the Department of Public Works and $200,000 in municipal insurance expenses contributed to lower-than-expected spending, Conrad said.

"Everybody's watching the dollars they spend and trying to spend more efficiently," Conrad said. "On the revenue side, you don't know what's going to happen. You hope the economy improves, but it is still slow at the moment."

Town revenues for the 2011-12 fiscal year are now expected to be $1.3 million higher than projected, which Conrad attributed to higher tax receipts, interest received on delinquent taxes, parking violation fees and emergency medical services reimbursements.

The town collected a total of approximately $162.7 million in current-year taxes during the 2011-12 fiscal year, compared to a total of about $158.1 million in current-year taxes collected during the 2010-11 fiscal year. That increase, however, also reflects a 2.95 percent effective tax rate hike last year.

During the 2011-12 fiscal year, the town posted a 98.92 percent tax collection rate, not including tax deferrals, compared to a 99.07 percent collection rate in 2010-11.

"I think we've been maintaining our collection rate at a good rate, especially since the economy has been so rocky," said Tax Collector Peggy Klein. "Part of it is I think Westport is fortunate in that people have been paying their taxes in a timely manner. We also do a lot of work with people, setting up payment plans, calling them, staying on top of things."

The town's 2011-12 budget surplus will become part of the town's undesignated cash reserves, also known as the unassigned fund balance. When it set the town's current property tax rate in May, the Board of Finance also approved the withdrawal of $2.7 million from the unassigned fund balance to facilitate setting a lower tax rate. After the 2011-12 surplus is added, the unassigned fund balance will total about $21 million, according to Conrad.

"We congratulate the town departments for closing out the fiscal year below budget," Board of Finance Chairman Avi Kaner said in an email Thursday. "Each year, the Board of Finance decides how much of our reserves may be used to mitigate tax increases. This inflow to the town's reserves will be utilized for that purpose."

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