Reorganization is part of every budget.
And the 2016-17 town budget proposed by First Selectman Tim Herbst last Wednesday, Feb. 10, is no different, with four full-time positions expected to be axed for the sake of reducing “the overall burden to the Trumbull taxpayer.”
The Parks and Recreation Department is facing the bulk of the changes, according to Herbst, who said the cuts are coming as a direct result of recommendations contained in the external audit recently completed by the Matrix Group.
However, the town employees won’t be leaving their posts without compensation.
“Our Finance Director, Maria Pires and our Labor Relations Director James Haselkamp have worked over the last four months to develop an early retirement incentive program, which was recently adopted by the Trumbull Town Council,” Herbst said in his budget transmittal letter to the Board of Finance and its chairwoman, Elaine Hammers.
“This plan has allowed us to realize additional cost savings and a further reduction of the employee headcount, while respecting those that have dedicated their professional careers to serving the people of Trumbull,” he added. “Eight current town employees have elected to participate in the early retirement plan, with an overall net reduction of four positions in the town operating budget.”
Mary Markham, the town’s recreation director, and Charlie Busser, the assistant parks superintendent, are among those taking the retirement package.
Both of their positions will be eliminated as part of the town’s continued consolidation of the parks department and recreation department that began in last year’s budget, according to Herbst.
“We’re entering phase two of the reorganization process, which takes existing positions and eliminates them or restructures them to save money for Trumbull taxpayers,” Herbst explained.
“It was recommended to us in the audit last year that we take away positions, like Ms. Markham’s, and create two positions with cheaper salaries to meet the required staffing models,” he added. “With the two lower-paying positions, we can reallocate funds elsewhere in our budget. As for Mr. Busser’s position, that will be completely defunded and those savings re-estimated around $80,000 to $90,000.”
Joining Markham and Busser in the early retirement ranks will be Senior Park Ranger Robert Hawley.
Herbst said that position will be retained, but a junior-level park ranger position will be cut.
“We’ll need to fill that vacancy over the next couple months,” the first selectman said. “And in the process of looking for a new senior ranger, we’ll eliminate the position below him.”
The fourth position being cut — in addition to the park ranger, the assistant parks superintendent and the recreation director — is actually a reduction of two full-time Town Hall administrative assistants, who will take on part-time roles in the 2016-17 budget.
Beyond the scope of the parks department, the town’s Public Works Department is seeing two employees, highway department supervisors Joseph Mitri and Glenn Broadbend, take the early retirement package.
Neither of those positions will be eliminated, according to Herbst.
Library Director Susan Horton and building official Graham Bisset will also be replaced after agreeing to the terms of the incentivized retirement program.
“Many of these employees have been with the town for years — some even decades,” Herbst told The Times Tuesday. “They will all be sorely missed.”
Looking at the library opening, he said he hopes that assistant director Louis Sheehy will step into Horton’s shoes.
“Sue has been a great leader over there and it won’t be an easy role to fill,” Herbst admitted.
Planning for the future
For her part, Horton was very cordial in accepting the package.
She told The Times Tuesday that at first she wasn’t going to take it, but after conferring with her husband the decision became a no brainer.
“We’re in the middle of a massive strategic plan and I didn’t want to leave because of that,” she said. “But we’d be crazy to pass up this package.”
Horton, who will celebrate nine years as library director in June, said her and her husband are planning to move to Tucson, Az. by next January.
“We’re very happy; we’re anxious to go,” she said. “We’re going to come back and spend our summers here — it’s the best of both worlds…
“I loved every minute of working for library,” she added. “I love this town and I’ve made some amazing friends and experienced amazing partnerships here.”
As for her replacement, she said she’s only focused on her work from now until June.
“I have a lot of things to do and I don’t like leaving things hanging,” she said. “I trust the board to select a brilliant new leader who can help the library reach its future goals.
“Change, from time to time, is not a bad thing,” she added. “Sometimes a little shove is good, and I think this will only benefit everyone here.”
Eighth and final
Herbst acknowledged in the letter that as a result of the retirement of the town’s senior center director, Jean Ferreira, there will be a substantial reorganization to include a new position that will focus exclusively on senior services.
“You will also note that the senior center and social services will now be consolidated into the Department of Human Services, which will be led by a new director,” the first selectman wrote to the Board of Finance.
He told The Times Tuesday that with Ferreira accepting her incentivized package, the town will look to hire a replacement director, while leaning senior outreach coordinator Jennifer Gillis to handle responsibilities for senior social services.
“We’re going to be expanding Jennifer’s responsibilities, while bringing a much-needed restructuring to our senior center and the services provided in and outside of it,” Herbst said.
“It’s a good opportunity for us, with a new center being built and a new director on the way, for us to mold this department in a way that gives Trumbull seniors everything they deserve,” he said.
Reducing head count
Looking back to the promises he made during his fourth-term acceptance speech in December, the first selectman said that this year’s $163.4-million budget, which increases spending by only 1.87% and offers a residential tax reduction, was his best proposal since taking office in 2009.
“This budget achieves all of the objectives I outlined when I took office in December,” he said. “This budget reduces the mill rate, reduces residential property taxes, reduces spending, and reduces the overall town employee head count.
“The budget that I have proposed also fully funds our pension obligations and maintains a healthy rainy day fund,” he added. “It holds debt in check and also allows for the restoration of $377,000 to the Board of Education budget.”
Herbst acknowledged that it would not have been possible without the robust economic growth Trumbull has seen over the last six years.
“In this year’s budget, our commercial grand list has grown 9.5%, which is a testament to all of the new development we are seeing around town,” he said.
“A lot of the conversation around this year’s budget was about a reduction in spending, or spending smarter, and that’s what this budget does,” he said. “It reduces the size of our government, while reducing the mill rate. And in this day and age, when there are not a lot of municipalities offering residential tax reductions, I think it’s pretty impressive that we’re offering our second in seven years.”