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Tuesday, March 20 News

Financiers want answers: Why so much DPW, cop overtime?

Officials from the Public Works and Police departments will be on the hot seat at next month's Board of Finance meeting when they face questions on why overtime accounts in both departments are over-budget.

The overtime issue arose at the finance board's quarterly budget review meeting Tuesday night.

"I cannot tell you what's driving the overtime" in the police budget, Fiscal Officer Robert Mayer told the panel. "We cannot answer that question."

The police budget is expected to be $225,000 in the red at the end of the fiscal year in June, based on experience through last Dec. 21, according to Mayer.

However, following a meeting Wednesday morning, Chief Gary MacNamara said, "We're confident our budget will come in close to what is allotted to us. We don't anticipate we are going to be over by $225,000."

MacNamara said a spike in police overtime has been caused, in large part, to vacancies in the department, which are now being filled.

"I believe there's been miscommunication that we're looking to clear up," he said.

"They have not given you an answer," board member James Walsh said, referring to the cause of police overtime. "We need to have the chief here at our next meeting and personally explain it."

The Department of Public Works deficit projection is even larger -- $430,000. With 13 snowstorms since Dec. 10 that required deployment of road crews, the $125,000 budget for overtime has not gone very far.

Mayer said that if there are no major storms that could earn the town reimbursements from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the town will have to cover the cleanup costs on its own. The road cleanup costs "also makes a difference if it's a nighttime storm versus a daytime storm," he said

Finance member Jim Brown asked how far back the department looks at previous years before budgeting what will be needed for overtime.

"Maybe what we're not doing is budgeting enough," he said.

In 2012, the overtime for snow removal was $48,000, compared to $291,000 in 2011 and $146,000 in 2010.

"It's all over the map," Caitlin Bosse, the comptroller and clerk for the finance board, said.

On Wednesday, Public Works Director Joseph Michelangelo said the town's philosophy has been to "budget lean."

"We budget for the lean year, not the average," he said, and when there are overages because of an active winter, money needs to come from the contingency accounts or cuts to other line items.

"The amount we budget only covers two 6-inch storms, two 2-inch storms and a couple of ice storms," Michelangelo said.

The balance in the contingency account stands at $2,064,571.

Finance board members are concerned about the town-side budget overages because of the looming deficit in the Board of Education budget, a deficit caused in large part to an "unprecedented" 17 additional students needing out of district placement for special education programs.

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Superintendent of Schools David Title told the finance board that school officials have been able to find about $700,000 in savings through a spending freeze to apply toward the estimated $1.4 million gap.

"We started at $1.4 million and we've been working to whittle that down," Title said. "If we thought that we could cover the whole thing, we wouldn't be here."

Finance board member Robert Stone said the town's budget has very little wiggle room, and told Title, "You might have to do some more hard choices."

Walsh was bothered that action isn't being taken by the town now to find funding to help cover the gap.

"We're burning daylight," he said. "We can't wait for another meeting. We have to start today."

First Selectman Michael Tetreau said to find an extra $700,000 in a line item of the budget is hard. He said he will be meeting with Board of Finance Chairman Thomas Flynn and Mayer to "solidify what the choices are," but gave assurances that the school board will end the fiscal year on June 30 with a balanced budget.

Under state statutes, school boards cannot end a fiscal year with a deficit.

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