Herbst unveils 2013-14 budget

Public safety and school security topped the budgetary priorities in First Selectman Timothy Herbst’s 2013-14 proposal.

For next year, Herbst has requested a $151.9-million budget. That represents a 3.6% increase from the current $146.7 package. To arrive at that number, Herbst reduced the budget requests from town department heads by $5.4 million.

In addition, he allocated $92.9 million to the school system, an increase of 2.74%. The school board had requested about $95.6 million for 2013-14, an increase of 4.7%. Herbst’s proposal gives the schools about half the requested increase.

“In conversations I have had with the school superintendent, we have both concluded that there are many moving parts in this budget,” Herbst said in his budget transmittal letter to the Board of Finance. “Throughout this budget process, additional information may become available to the Board of Finance and the Town Council that could further reduce the budget and the mill rate increase.”

Herbst specifically mentioned several areas where he thought the school system could save money without compromising learning. Going to a combined self-insured health care plan for town and school employees could result in $1.8 million in savings, Herbst said.

“To make sure this new program works effectively, rather than applying that savings to further reduce the budget, we have mutually agreed that these realized savings should be applied to the establishment of a reserve fund that will allow our municipality to properly respond to any medical claims in the years ahead,” Herbst said.

Herbst also pointed out that the school system has about $875,000 in unspent money from the 2011-12 budget.

“I believe my recommended budget, coupled with the $875,000 of unspent money, provides the Board of Education with the necessary resources they need to continue to deliver a quality education to our children,” he said.

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 due to 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.

“Nothing is more sacrosanct than the safety of our children,” Herbst said. “Dec. 14, 2012, will be a day that we will never forget. The tragedies at Sandy Hook Elementary School taught all of us that we must be ready for the most unthinkable and we must give our Police Department the adequate resources that they need to properly protect our residents, our children and our schools.”

Herbst said the additional police would benefit the schools as much as the town, and that he also was allocating funds for additional training for police.

“If our police officers are ever called upon to respond to an active shooter at any town building, school or facility, they must have continuous training and professional development to make sure they are more than ready to deal with any situation that is put before them,” he said.

The other town emergency responders, the EMS, would receive a full-time professional chief under Herbst’s budget proposal. Such a position would improve call response and allow the department to generate enough revenue to become self-supporting and better protect the town, Herbst said.

Finally, Herbst recommended a $5.1-million allocation to the town’s pension fund. This amount would mean Trumbull is funding its pension at a level recommended by actuaries for the first time in 20 years, he said.

In order to defray the spending increase, Herbst recommended using $1 million of the town’s $16.9-million fund balance to offset the mill rate increase. Doing so would mean that though spending is increasing 3.6%, taxes would increase 2.1%.

“I firmly believe this proposed budget places a core focus on improving the three pillars of our community,” he said. “We continue to maintain and build upon our strong financial health. We will continue to maintain a strong school system. We will make further investments in public safety and economic development that will strengthen our quality of life.”