Finance board makes slight increase to 2019-20 budget

Elaine Hammers
Elaine Hammers

The 2019-20 municipal budget proposal that the Board of Finance approved Monday night is only about $63,000 higher than the $174.8 million one First Selectman Vicki Tesoro presented last month. That change though, about .04%, doesn’t reflect the amount of work the finance board put in, said Chairman Elaine Hammers.

“We added about $63,000 and, on a $174 million budget that’s a pretty small change, but we did move some funds around, and everything we added was related to health and safety,” Hammers said.
The biggest additions to the budget were for vehicles. The board added $11,000 for a year’s worth of payments on a new vehicle for the Police Department, and another $40,000 for the first of five annual payments on a Public Works truck.
“The police had requested five new vehicles, and [First Selectman Vicki Tesoro] had budgeted for four,” Hammers said. “We added back in the fifth to make sure we are replacing the same amount of vehicles year over year.”
Hammers said it was important to keep the Police Department’s fleet from aging. The cars are driven in shifts, and accumulate mileage rapidly. When the cars are retired from police use, they generally live useful second lives in other departments.
Public Works Director John Marsilio had originally requested three new trucks for his department. Tesoro cut them from her proposal, but the finance board added one back, Hammers said.
Heavy equipment like plow trucks are sometimes bonded because they remain in use for up to 20 years. Last year a new truck was part of a bond package, but was later eliminated. Hammers said the truck authorized by the finance board would help maintain quality of life in town.
“Right now we have 25 plow routes, and 25 trucks,” she said. “We decided to keep the current 25 routes, rather than dividing the town into 24, because which of us wants to wait longer for our street to be plowed?”
The finance board also increased Tesoro’s allocation for road salt, after the department used more than expected for the past two years. Though road salt is not generally considered technologically advanced, the new blends have greater melting power, melt ice and snow down to a lower temperature, and do not require summer cleanup like the old sand/salt mixes did.
“Hopefully it balances out, the additional cost versus not having to clean it up,” Hammers said.
The only other relatively large addition was a $10,000 allocation to cover the cost of new paramedic coverage in town. The other line items that the board increased were small changes that Hammers said would have a disproportionate impact on public safety. These items include just over $2,000 for training and equipment for the town’s new volunteer Community Emergency Response Team that includes things like flashlights, tents, and CPR and AED training.
One small expenditure that residents could notice is the board’s decision to add $3,250 to give lifeguards at the town pools a pay increase.
“You know what we pay lifeguards? Twelve dollars an hour,” Hammers said.
A lifeguard shortage has at times resulted in a reduction of hours at the pool, and Hammers said she was hopeful that the salary bump could help increase the pool of available lifeguards.
“We used to get 50 applicants for lifeguard spots. This year we got nine,” she said. “So either they are going to other towns that pay more, or they move on to another job that’s less demanding.”
On the other side of the ledger, the finance board eliminated a $20,000 line items for fireworks. The annual Trumbull Day fireworks show is popular in town, but the Trumbull Day Commission’s account has a healthy $45,000 balance and could cover the expense itself, Hammers said.
The board also opted to leave in place $511,000 that Tesoro included in anticipation of state cuts to educational funding. These cuts, though not final, appear likely and Tesoro has asked residents to contact the town’s Hartford legislators.
“Unlike some other communities, I have accounted for the full impact of these proposals in my proposed budget,” Tesoro said. “While I retain the hope that all or at least some of this impact will be reduced, you cannot budget on hope. You have to budget on the facts as they are known.”
Tesoro said she has met with Gov. Ned Lamont and Trumbull’s legislative delegation, but urged the community to make their feelings known, too.
“I do not know the chances of success in reversing these proposals. I do know that if we do not work together there will be no chance whatsoever,” she said.
The revised proposal, which remains about 2.9% higher than this year’s, would require a tax hike of about 2.15% if approved by the Town Council as-is.
Editor's note - An earlier version of this story referenced $1.2 million in contingency funds against state education cuts. That number included the proposed $700,000 teacher pension cost that could also be shifted from the state to towns and has also been included in the budget.