Tesoro seeks 1.79% spending hike

Vicki Tesoro
Vicki Tesoro

Trumbull homeowners would get a small tax hike under the $169.6-million 2018-19 budget proposal recommended by First Selectman Vicki Tesoro. That is about equal to $162 on property assessed at $250,000.

Tesoro posted her budget proposal, which represents a 1.79% spending increase, on the town’s website over the weekend, and the Board of Finance will now begin deliberations. The finance board will then forward its own version of the budget to the Town Council by March 24.

The bulk of the budget increase is allocated for the school system, which will receive a 3.1% funding increase (about $3 million) under Tesoro’s proposal. The school board had requested a 4.1% funding hike.

“As a longtime education advocate, I would have liked to fully fund the Board of Education request,” Tesoro said. “However, in this uncertain climate, it is both prudent and fiscally conservative to balance the interests of all of our citizens.”

The school board originally received a 2.8% increase last year, but uncertainty over state funding for education resulted in the schools receiving only about half the budgeted increase, she said.

The 439-page budget includes several items that were part of Tesoro’s campaign platform, including a reduction in town attorney expenses. The town attorney budget, listed on page 96, shows a $40,000 cut, from $458,590 to $418,500. But Tesoro said the actual savings on legal fees would be significantly more because the WPCA and Planning & Zoning departments both reduced their legal fees line items. Tesoro estimated the total savings on legal fees at about $120,000.

The budget proposal also reflects a reshuffling in the first selectman’s office, with the hiring of two chief administrative officers at a salary of $63,748 each. Total staff salaries remained steady, as the new staffers essentially split the salary that the outgoing chief of staff received.

The budget also includes an $8.3-million contribution to the town’s municipal and police employee pension funds. Both funds are currently receiving their General Accounting Standards recommended funding, although the balances on both remain under their recommended levels.

“Our plans remain underfunded,” Tesoro said. “We are improving, but still far from where we need to be.”

Tesoro also opted not to allocate money from the town’s general fund to reduce the need for an increase in the mill rate. Credit rating agencies recommend a town keep a general fund balance of at least 10% of its annual operating budget. Next year the general fund would be 12.7% under the budget proposal.

Tesoro said this first budget proposal of her administration had been a challenge.

“There is much to do, and many priorities to be addressed, but we’re doing what I said we would do — not spend more for the sake of spending more, but spending smarter,” Tesoro said. “I look forward to participating in the next phases of the process, and I thank all in advance for their diligence and for volunteering their time for the benefit of our community.”