Weston finance board explores ways to reach flat mill rate

Weston Town Hall at 56 Norfield Road in Weston.

Weston Town Hall at 56 Norfield Road in Weston.

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WESTON — The Board of Finance reviewed a variety of scenarios before settling for a flat mill rate on Thursday.

“This has been amongst — if not the — most difficult fiscal budget I’ve been associated with, certainly in Weston,” Board of Finance Chairman Steve Ezzes said.

The BOF has currently budgeted a 1.39 percent mill rate increase, but would need to cut $1 million from the combined town and schools budget to make it flat.

The finance board is expected to meet on June 1 to vote on the mill rate.

To find savings, finance board members questioned if non-union town employees could forego wage increases for one year.

But First Selectman Chris Spaulding said he was concerned decisions made during the pandemic could be even more expensive to reverse if need be.

“If we bring somebody down to three-fifths time, they’re not going to stick around if they have somewhere else to go,” Spaulding said. “Rehiring that person is going to be expensive and problematic.”

Because of an expected delay in Easton joining the Westport-Weston Health District, A projected $35,000 in savings did not happen, so the amount was added back into to the town’s budget. To offset that, Spaulding outlined $45,000 in savings found in his proposed $13.7 million budget.

Similarly, Board of Education Chair Tony Pesco said cost savings because of the pandemic have increased from $550,000 to an expected $600,000. He said $120,000 has also been taken out of the $54 million schools budget.

“Some people quote some of the numbers for some of the larger savings in districts we’re seeing around us,” Pesco said. “It’s just that some of their transportation budgets in some of the districts are two or three times larger than ours, but on a percentage basis it was around 12 or 13 percent in savings.”

Pesco also voiced caution in foregoing wage increases for non-union district employees. He said it would be difficult to not give raises to non-union workers bedcause some are doing similar work their unionized colleagues.

“I think it creates more problems than it solves,” he said. “We are considering the non-contracted administrators, but in terms of the unaffiliated pool, I would hate to go there for the same reasons Chris did.”

In addition to personnel, special education transportation costs was also discussed. But district administration highlighted the individualized approach needed for special education.

“This is a major challenge for every district in the state,” Superintendent William Mckersie said. “This is one of those very difficult to project cost areas within special education.”

The finance board considered deferring some capital expenditures including pushing off the first of three scheduled payments for the repair of Michael’s Way Bridge.

Spaulding said he was not against the deferral as along as the town understood the capital expenses could grow next year.

“If you pile on potential COVID costs, we could be looking at a very challenging budget and we don’t want to do that to people again,” Spaulding said.