Westport finance board cuts hit transit, town budgets
WESTPORT — For the second year, the Westport Transit District’s budget was cut during a review of the town’s budget.
“My prayer is that we have a good discussion about transportation strategy,” Chair Brian Stern said at the Board of Finance meeting on Tuesday, adding a discussion was necessary about Westport’s need for the commuter shuttle service.
The finance board voted 4-3 to cut the transit district’s $359,000 budget by $39,000. Last year, a similar cut was overturned by the Representative Town Meeting in a unanimous vote.
BOF members previously expressed concerns about the costs and environmental impact of the commuter shuttle service to the town, due to low ridership.
However, Stern said he wouldn’t approve any budget that canceled the door-to-door services in town.
“We should be protecting that, almost at any cost,” he said.
But Transit Director Marty Fox argued the cut could push back a plan to bring a microtransit ride-sharing option — called Wheels2U — to Westport in August. Further discussions would be a “titanic waste of time,” he said.
“We surveyed the entire town. The town says they want to support the commuter shuttles,” Fox said, emphasizing the RTM unanimously voted to restore funds last year.
RTM member Jessica Bram said Ubers and Lyfts could create more traffic versus a ride-sharing service in town.
“When we did look at getting rid of the buses, we had people in tears,” she said, adding many of the train riders are domestic and day workers.
BOF Vice Chair Andrea Moore, who voted against the small cut alongside members Sheri Gordon and Nancie Dupier, said her vote was based on the financial aspect.
“From a financial standpoint, I just can’t justify the investment given the ridership and the trends,” Moore said.
The finance board also unanimously voted to trim the first selectman’s proposed $75.7 million budget by 1 percent, or about $757,000.
First Selectman Jim Marpe said the cut was something doable through a combination of revenue and cost reductions.
“We will find it among the various departments and we’ve already started to work on that,” Marpe said. “I have some sense of comfort that when we come back on April 1, we can identify those locations.”
The Westport Library’s $5.1 million budget was also cut by 1 percent, or $51,000, with finance board members cautioning Executive Director Bill Harmer to notify them of potential implications.
“I do want you to come back and say to us legitimately what is the impact of that to you guys,” Stern said.
Town departments will next meet on April 1 to explain how they will make cuts or ask for a restoration.