Fall Festival request cut to $15,000

There were some fireworks over fireworks at a special Town Council meeting Aug. 13 that resulted in a near unanimous vote to allocate $15,000 — $30,000 less than was originally asked for — out of the town’s general fund to cover expenses for the Fall Festival scheduled for Sept.12.
First Selectman Tim Herbst sought $45,000 from the fund to offset a projected $11,225 loss and as a reserve in the event the town’s “conservative” projections were not conservative enough of a safety net.
The special agenda item, which came in a joint session with the Board of Finance meeting that night, gave the first selectman’s Chief of Staff, Lynn Arnow, and Parks and Recreation Director Stuart McCarthy the opportunity to present and defend a detailed budget for a planned carnival followed by evening fireworks.
Tom Kelly, a member of the Board of Finance member and Chair of the Trumbull Democratic Town Committee, expressed concern about the first annual Fall Festival being a success given such short notice.
“The event is only 30 days away and not a word of publicity has been put out,” he said.
Board and council members also learned that the town solicited bids for carnival rides but has not received any replies.
McCarthy said that one potential vendor has signed a one-week event, while another will be at the Norwalk Oyster Festival that weekend.
He added that he is in conversation with a vendor, and said he expects to close the deal.
As a long discussion was winding down and the boards were clearly ready to vote, Town Council minority leader Vicki Tesoro told Herbst she was concerned that "process is not being followed."
“I have four pages of questions, but I’ll let them go so we can vote,” said Tesoro, who is running for first selectman on the Democratic ticket this fall.
The candidate said that the bidding process should have been properly vetted, and should not have been the subject of a special meeting.
The $45,000 request was ultimately reduced to $15,000, in part because tapping the general fund for the larger amount could place the Town’s AA+ credit rating in jeopardy.
Agencies require the general fund balance to be not less than ten percent of a town’s budget. Trumbull’s stands at 10.07%, so every supplemental allocation must be weighed carefully.
The $15,000 was approved unanimously by the Board of Finance with Town Council member Scott Wich casting the only dissenting vote.
Cop cars
The general fund balance had previously been raised during an early board discussion about the Trumbull Police Department’s request for $20,000 for the purchase of two new vehicles.
Deputy Chief Tom Savarese presented for the police, and cited the need to replace two high mileage cars that are in poor repair, due to their being in use 24 hours a day.
A question was asked about the purchase pattern, to which Herbst responded that the department had acquired 14 new vehicles in the last two years — though during the preceding two budgets, the first selectman had struck funding for new vehicles.
The discussion brought out the fact that the department had a full-time mechanic until the year before Herbst took office in 2009.
Rather than requesting funding to replace the mechanic he assigned police equipment maintenance to the town’s Public Works Department, and a part-time mechanic was ultimately hired. With that mechanic’s resignation at the end of June, the town is now hiring a replacement.
Finance Chair Elaine Hammers recommended an alternative funding approach — transferring the needed $20,000 from an existing police department account, rather than appropriating it from the general fund.
That motion passed, and by late November Trumbull will have three new fully equipped Ford Explorer four wheel drive vehicles. One is already ordered, with  two approved Thursday night.
Reason for celebration
Town Treasurer John Ponzio opened the Board of Finance meeting on a far more positive note, telling members that the Town had $71.6 million in cash, up $20.5 million from June (due to seasonally high tax collections), a $12.8 million bond payment due in September, a “continuing high fund balance,” pensions funded at the ARC level, and that the credit rating agencies broached the issue of raising their ratings from AA+ to the coveted AAA.
He also said that the Tax Collector had processed 2,500 online payments in June, half the total from the time the service was made available at the first of this year.