Proposed budget heads to Board of Finance

The town of Trumbull’s proposed budget for 2013-14 is now in the hands of the Board of Finance, which starts its vetting process on Monday, Feb. 25, with a Board of Education budget review.

First Selectman Timothy Herbst unveiled his proposed budget of $151.9 million recently. That represents a 3.6% increase from the current $146.7-million package. To arrive at that number, Herbst reduced the budget requests from town department heads by $5.4 million.

“This year’s budget increase, at first glance, looks very reasonable,” Paul Lavoie, Republican vice chair of the Board of Finance, said. “I like to see what departments have to say and get the color around the number before I go out with a strong opinion. My opinion right now is under development.”

Herbst’s proposal gives the schools about half the requested increase, allocating the schools $92.9 million, a 2.74% increase. The school board had requested about $95.6 million, an increase of 4.7%. In Herbst’s transmittal letter to the Board of Finance, he mentions trying to save money in the schools budget by moving to a combined self-insured health care plan for town and school employees, saving $1.8 million.

Tom Tesoro, a Democrat on the Board of Finance, has some concerns about a self-insured model and said he will be asking a lot of questions.

“The inherent dangers are we have no experiences in self-insurance, so we have no idea how it will play out,” Tesoro said.

He also wants to be sure any “budget gimmicks” are avoided. Tesoro said he thinks the school budget will need some additional “scrubbing.”

Herbst also cited the schools in explaining his decision to allocate funds for two additional police officers. Currently the department has an authorized strength of 75, but in practice has operated with 71 or 72 because of turnover, retirements and the fact that hiring and training a new officer can take about 18 months. Police Chief Tom Kiely had requested an additional three officers to “build the bench” in anticipation of numerous retirements in the next few years.

“I agree that police should not be a political issue,” Tesoro said. “But why only fund two new officers if the chief requested three?”

Tesoro said he’d like to see the police request be fully funded, to improve public safety.

Meetings

The review of the Board of Education budget is Monday at 7 p.m. in town hall. The board has several meetings scheduled in early March and a full calendar can be viewed at trumbull-ct.gov. Public hearings at Madison Middle School are scheduled for Monday, March 4, at 7 p.m. and Saturday, March 9, at 10 a.m.

The Board of Finance takes a possible vote March 13 before passing the budget to the Town Council.

Lavoie said the Board of Finance, under the leadership of Elaine Hammers, takes a largely calm and pragmatic approach to the budget.

“I do think member of both parties on the Board of Finance have an open working relationship,” Lavoie said.

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