Budget balancing: Finance board awaits teachers' review (UPDATE)
12:32 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 27 — Board of Finance Chairwoman Elaine Hammers has announced that Wednesday's vote on the 2016-2017 town budget has been postponed. Hammers made the announcement at the end of a public hearing held Saturday morning and stated that no new date has been set for the vote.
With the final vote on the 2016-2017 town budget only a week away, the Board of Finance is looking at the clock and hoping time doesn't run out on a projected $3 million in health care savings that hinges on a disruption analysis currently being reviewed by the Trumbull Education Association.
If the clock hits zero on the vote — scheduled for 6 p.m. Wednesday, March 2 — and the town doesn't have an answer for whether or not the proposed benefits change violates the teachers’ collective bargaining agreement or the teacher's haven't presented a counter in compensation, then the board will have to scramble to balance the budget and avoid a shortfall.
"We will have a balanced budget," Board of Finance Chairwoman Elaine Hammers told The Times Wednesday morning. "We just don't know whether or not we will have the proposed health care savings. And, from a Board of Finance standpoint, we need to know which way this thing is going to go pretty soon."
The health care plan proposes a switch from all the employees under the Board of Education to receive benefits under the new state health care system.
Hammers said that the TEA, which represents the six bargaining units under the Board of Education, will need to have its own independent review completed and communicated back to the town some time over the next week in order for the savings to be actualized.
Otherwise, the finance board will be left with a $1.8 shortfall that will need to be balanced by either addition or subtraction.
"We will either need to start trimming or adding back into the budget to make sure it's balanced," Hammers said. "Neither is good, but this is the situation we're left facing...
"We have to take every part of the budget into consideration here," she added. "Obviously everyone wants to keep the mill rate down, and we want it to stay down, too, but we need to be given proper notice on these potential savings to finish our job. Otherwise, we're going to have to make some tough decisions on this year's budget."
Board of Education chairwoman Loretta Chory spoke to The Times Wednesday afternoon and said that the friction between the town and the union could have been avoided if the proposed $3 million savings had been announced earlier in the year.
"The timing has been unfortunate because we are tied up with the budget and felt the need to get it in this year," she said. "Our decision to go forward with it ran really close to the budget cycle.
"We didn't want to cause any disruptive and we didn't want there to be any grievances — we love our teachers; we love our employees," she added. "But the timing was such that we didn't have another move to make at that point...
"The move has been made and now we have to patch things up."
Despite the big unknown lingering over the Board of Finance and the rest of the town, Chory said she felt comfortable it would work out and that the Board of Education made the right decision.
"The contract allows us to pursue and to make changes to that are equal or better to what we currently have and I think once the disruption analysis is completed, it will prove that we made the right choice," the chairwoman said. "I feel confident about the state plan and the disruption analysis will back that up."
The Board of Education has done its own internal disruption analysis of the proposed switch, which has been shared now with the board's bargaining units.
The TEA is conducting its own independent report.
Chory said Superintendent Gary Cialfi is working "on the ground level" to make sure the situation is resolved.
However, Chory admitted that she didn't believe such a resolution would come in time to meet the Board of Finance's March 2 vote.
"The issue isn't on our agenda Tuesday," she said. "And I don't expect it to be."