Budget public hearing this Saturday

A public hearing on the town and school budget proposals for the next fiscal year will be this Saturday at 10 a.m. at Madison Middle School.

The Board of Finance, which has been vetting the budget for weeks, is holding the final public comment session before taking a vote next week. The finance board is scheduled to have a budget voting session Tuesday, March 3, which could be continued to Wednesday, March 4, if needed. The budget will then go to the Town Council.

In early February, First Selectman Tim Herbst proposed a $160.3-million budget for the 2015-16 fiscal year, representing a 2.17% increase over the current year and a 2.19% mill rate increase.

Trumbull’s Board of Education approved a $97.8-million budget, proposed by Superintendent Gary Cialfi in January. Under Herbst’s proposal, $573,734 would be eliminated from that budget, bringing a 2.94% increase down to 2.34%. Herbst said the board can see significant savings in health care pharmacy coverage by joining the same public sector purchasing coalition the town has joined. He also believes the board can still eliminate pay-to-participate fees next year.

The town budget eliminates some part-time or vacant positions while reorganizing other departments, like the Parks and Recreation. The Parks and Recreation Department would be adding a new director of Parks and Recreation to oversee department heads of each branch. Herbst said he thinks that will help add organization and increase revenue to the department.

The budget also creates a health department, following Trumbull’s decision to leave the regional health district. The new department would save the town about $17,000, according to the proposal.

Herbst said his spending plan would make government “smaller and smarter,” while also increasing pension funding.

TYA and arts

Not everyone is happy with the proposal. Much of the public backlash has centered around Herbst’s not including $50,000 to pay the director’s of the Trumbull Youth Association theater program.

Herbst believes that TYA’s roughly $69,470 budget, which comes from participation fees, tickets and other sources, will allow the program to be self-sustaining.

Supporters of TYA have made an organized effort to advocate for putting the program back in the budget. Many worry it will suffer with lack of town support.

“Keep TYA in Town” has become an active Facebook page, with more than 700 members.

In one letter, posted online, Cathy and Rick Bolton voice their support for the program and call defunding of arts programs “a disturbing trend.”

“It fosters a lifelong love of the arts and builds skills in human interaction that extends far beyond their teen years,” they write of TYA. “Why would we defund such a program?”

Democrat’s view

Herbst has said he is proud of the proposed budget and it accomplishes many goals he has had since he came into office, including increasing pension funding to the annual required contribution.

Democrat Tony Silber disagrees that the budget makes town government smaller and smarter. He calls it “adding and padding.”

“Mr. Herbst adds a $50,000 executive assistant position for the director of labor relations. He adds a $95,000 position for a new director of parks and recreation, even though we already have an $87,000 director of recreation and an $85,000 superintendent of parks,” Silber wrote. “He even holds aside funds for a substantial raise for himself and other town executives.”

Silber also criticizes elimination of TYA in the budget and the removal of a part-time senior services bus driver position.

Additional budget information may be found at Trumbull-ct.gov.

The public hearing is Saturday, Feb. 28, 10 a.m. at Madison Middle School.