Westport finance board approves town, schools budget without restorations

The Board of Finance reviewed the town budget on Wednesday. Taken March 10, 2020 in Westport, Conn.

The Board of Finance reviewed the town budget on Wednesday. Taken March 10, 2020 in Westport, Conn.

DJ Simmons/Hearst Connecticut Media

WESTPORT — With no requests for restorations, the Board of Finance unanimously approved next year’s general fund of $212,772,828.

The board previously cut 1 percent from both the town and schools budget. But BOF member Sheri Gordon highlighted that cuts were made before the financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic was being felt.

“I have to wonder whether 1 percent goes far enough in light of everything we now know,” Gordon said.

The town’s portion of the budget is about $75 million; the schools will get about $122 million.

BOF Chair Brian Stern said the board would revisit the financial picture when discussing the tax rate and reserve rate later in the year.

“My guess is that our reserves will be very strong at the end of this year,” Stern said.

Work done by Finance Director Gary Conrad to restructure the town’s health care and pension plans has helped the reserves, he said.

First Selectman Jim Marpe said it would be difficult to rethink everything with the information the town currently has.

“We still have to continue to provide services to the community regardless,” he said.

BOF member Jim Foster echoed Marpe’s sentiments and said it’s hard to assess the financial impacts currently.

“One of the things we could do proactively is look at the ways we go about managing finances as a board going forward,” he said. “I just think it’s a good time to look at how we manage moving forward.”

One of the areas hit in cuts was the Westport Transit District, which for the second year faced a reduction. The finance board voted 4-3 to cut the transit district’s $359,000 budget by $39,000.

But Dick Lowenstein, a Representative Town Meeting member, asked the BOF to reduce the cut.

“I would also ask the board to send a message to the town that transportation is a major factor in Westport’s future economic health,” Lowenstein said, adding the transit district was the starting point for a comprehensive transportation operation in town.

Stern said the reasoning behind the cut was that a new strategy was needed for transportation. The board elected to keep the full cut in place since a formal request for restoration was not made.

“We thought this amount of money would be fine and give the transit district time to put in place a new strategy without committing us to the same process and expenditures that we have in the current year,” Stern said. “I think that still applies.”

The BOF also unanimously approved $5,179,221 for the sewer fund, $1,946,441 for railroad parking and $352,023 for Wakeman Town Farm.

The Representative Town Meeting will discuss the budget in May.