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Tuesday, February 20 News

Tetreau sells $286.7M budget plan: 'We're moving in the right direction'

In formally detailing his $286.7 million budget proposal Tuesday to the Board of Finance and Board of Selectmen, First Selectmen Michael Tetreau used a power-point presentation to underscore the goals of his spending package for 2014-15, which would require a 2.67 tax increase.

He also highlighted some financial statistics for the officials who are poised to begin reviewing the budget plan, which in its final form, will take effect July 1.

Looking back to 2003, Tetreau said the town's budget was $168.3 million, its contribution to the town pension fund was zero, and the town had 471 full-time employees. In 2013, the budget was $270.5 million, the town contributed $5.4 million to the pension fund, and there were 465 full-time employees.

And while costs rose over that decade, the first selectman said, "We're moving in the right direction." He said the five-year period from 2011 to 2015 will see the lowest expense and tax rate growth in the last 20 years, while plans call for fully funding long-term obligations.

Finance Chairman Thomas Flynn wasn't willing to say whether the Republican-controlled finance panel and Representative Town Meeting will be able to live up its 2013 campaign platform to stop local tax increases. As proposed, Tetreau's budget carries a 2.67 percent tax increase.

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Among the largest accounts in the budget proposed by First Selectman Michael Tetreau include:
Board of Education: $156,218,051, up from $151,191,746
Department of Public Works operations: $14,095,740, up from $13,536,195
Police Department: $13,224,150, up from $12,683,533
Fire Department: $11,829,902, up from $11,808,364
Fairfield Public Library: $3,649,039, up from $3,576,019
Contributions to outside agencies:
Pequot Library: $325,000, down from $350,000
Fairfield Counseling Services: $175,000, same amount as this year
Grasmere by the Sea: $65,000, same amount as this year
Fairfield Museum and History Center $50,000, same amount as this year

"We'll have to see," Flynn said Tuesday. "Basically, I go into every budget process with an open mind ... I need to hear the budget presentation in its entirety."

While the two boards on Tuesday did not discuss any specific aspects of the proposed budget -- that will come as officials from each municipal meet with the boards -- Flynn did lay down some ground rules for future hearings, and finance board members asked for some additional information from the first selectman.

"This is a fact-gathering situation, not a judgmental situation, at this point," Flynn said. He said he'd received phone calls from some citizens who expressed concern that they will not be able to speak at the hearings. He said public comment will be allowed after each department's presentation. "That doesn't mean public questions," Flynn said. "It means public comment on what you heard."

Budget proposal highlights

Among the details of the 2014-15 spending plan unveiled Monday by Tetreau are:

Total spending of $286,715,615, an increase of 2.96 percent over the current spending package of $278,465,591. The current town operating budget is $85,503,506, with $15,156,253 for retiree benefits and $26,614,186 for debt service, while the school budget is $151,022,051.

Taxes would rise 2.67 percent over the current rate of 23.93 mills.

Board of Education's budget request of $157,022,051 would be cut by $800,000.

"In putting together this budget, I have done my best to consider the many diverse needs of our community," Tetreau said in his budget statement. "Everyone wants a low tax increase. Everyone also wants top-quality services that provide maximum value for their tax dollars."

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Tetreau described his spending plans as fiscally responsible in meeting the town's needs, including fully funding the recommended contributions for employee pensions and retiree medical benefits. The budget also includes a $500,000 increase for senior tax relief.

The small 0.41 percent increase in the grand list of all taxable properties last year, Tetreau said, shows the local real estate market has not fully recovered. "Our non-tax revenue is showing improvement, but is still much lower than in past years," he said. "This means any increases in expenses are primarily funded by an increase in tax revenue."

A link to the complete budget proposal is here: http://bit.ly/1fCTjrR