Westport budget process to stay on schedule

First Selectman Jim Marpe addresses a crowd at Westport Town Hall in November.

First Selectman Jim Marpe addresses a crowd at Westport Town Hall in November.

Hearst Connecticut Media file photo

WESTPORT — Gov. Ned Lamont’s executive order to waive the requirement for budgets to be approved at town meetings may alleviate pressure on some municipalities combating the coronavirus crisis, but in Westport, business will be conducted as usual.

“Our town attorney Ira Bloom has reviewed that executive order as have I, and we’re in agreement that it does not apply to our budget process,” First Selectman Jim Marpe said Monday. “The RTM will still have it’s normal role in approving the budget.”

Unlike neighboring town Weston, which approves its budget through a town referendum, Marpe said the Representative Town Meeting falls outside of the type of government entity the order applies to.

“The executive order was speaking to more traditional types of town meetings, which mostly communities smaller than Westport conduct,” he said.

With ongoing limitations of social gatherings — as of Monday, Westport had 74 confirmed coroanvirus cases — the town is now preparing to conduct its meetings through the Zoom conference app in cojunction with streaming and televising meetings.

“It will require a different process of public input, but public input will still be entertained, encouraged and accepted as part of our normal meeting process,” Marpe said.

The Board of Education has already moved to an online format for its meeting Monday night, with public comment being taken through Google Docs.

Before town hall closed, the Board of Finance was in the process of reviewing budgets and unanimously voted to trim the first selectman’s proposed $75.7 million budget by 1 percent, or about $757,000.

The finance board is next scheduled to vote on the schools’ $123 million budget on April 1.

“On April 2, the Board of Education will meet again,” BOE Chairman Candice Savin said in an email to parents on Monday. “Our agenda will include our response to the Board of Finance’s budget decision, an update on remote learning, an update from the CMS (Coleytown Middle School) Building Committee, and an update on our plans for a before school program to accommodate our shift to later start times.”

In an earlier order, Lamont gave local leaders an additional 30 days to adopt their budgets. But according to Marpe, the RTM will look to have its first hearing on the budgets on May 4, as scheduled.

“In terms of timing of the overall process, we are still planning to follow the schedule that we have laid out,” he said. “There may be one or two meetings between now and the setting of the mill rate where the date changes, or we add a meeting just to better complete the process, but the overall time frame remains the same.”