Finance board reduces education, police budgets
The Board of Finance passed a 2014-15 budget Tuesday night that reduces First Selectman Timothy Herbst’s recommended budget by $1.7 million and cuts $697,500 from the Board of Education side.
The total budget of $156.67 million represents a 2.89% increase over the current year. Herbst had recommended a minor cut to the Board of Education’s proposal, totaling $95.55 million, but the finance board cut further, making the education budget $94.85 million.
The budget passed 4-2, with Democrats Tom Kelly and Andrew Palo against. Palo and Kelly agreed with other cuts and adjustments made to the overall budget but did not support cutting as much from the Board of Education side.
Before the $697,500 cut was proposed, the board deadlocked on a previous motion made by Republican Paul Lavoie to cut $900,000 from the Board of Education budget. Lavoie said that as enrollment was trending down in the schools, he felt adding several positions was not necessary and could mean layoffs down the road that he wanted to avoid.
“Every year we trim money off this budget and every year we have a great school system,” Lavoie said. “We adequately fund our school system in a way that the taxpayers we represent can afford on a year-to-year basis.”
Palo, Kelly and Republican Bill Haberlin thought the $900,000 cut was too drastic.
“The $900,000 is a scary amount to me,” Palo said. “I thought the Board of Education did a great job coming up with a lean budget.”
Palo said he supported removal of a new central registration person.
Kelly argued that the school system adds great value to Trumbull property owners and he didn't want it to deteriorate.
“We only get one chance to get this right,” Kelly said.
Haberlin proposed the $697,500 cut, which would still allow the district to add some teachers at the high school. The positions that could be kept include part-time Latin teacher, culinary teacher and part-time help in music, theater and math. The cut passed 4-2.
First Selectman Herbst’s budget budget proposal included adding $200,000 to the Police Department budget, to hire retired police officers to work as school security officers. Herbst had hoped the plan would gain bipartisan support, but finance board members took it out of the budget Tuesday night, saying they needed to see a better plan.
“I am the first person to support funding for school security guards when someone presents us with an adequate plan,” Lavoie said.
During budget deliberations, Chief Thomas Kiely, when asked, said he wasn’t sure how the $200,000 would be used, Lavoie said.
The board also proposed cutting an additional $148,272 from the police salaries budget; that would still pay for entry-level positions in the police force but not allow for promotions.
Finance Board Chair Elaine Hammers said she found the police budget frustrating, in that it budgeted for promotions when more officers are needed.
“I’m upset looking at this budget,” Hammers said. “We agreed to add patrolmen last year, not upper levels.”
The Police Department is budgeted to fill five vacancies. Currently, three officers are training. The police overtime budget has been running up each year due to the vacancies, Hammers said.
“We fully support the addition of five officers and this budget will support that as well,” Hammers said.
It wasn’t only about making cuts Tuesday night. The Board of Finance added back in a technology position on the town side and also allowed for additional contracted help in the building department. Building official Graham Bisset had presented the board with a number of pending projects coming through the office with which he will need support to complete inspections and permits.
The board supported filling a vacancy at the Trumbull Library, that the first selectman had removed. Library Director Sue Horton said she would need to reduce library hours if the position was taken away.
Board members also took the Senior Commission and Recreation Department to task for fees charged to residents. Hammers said she didn’t approve of residents being charged a $5 fee at the Senior Center, while out-of-town residents can pay an annual $20 fee and take as many classes and programs that they want, potentially bumping town residents out of a program.
Hammers, Kelly and the other board members also were upset over a new plan to charge residents $5 for a parks sticker.
“If you have two cars, that’s $10 and that may be nothing, but people are paying taxes and it just seems like we are nickel-and-diming the residents,” Kelly said.
Hammers agreed, saying she wished the new sticker fee had come up in budget discussions. While the board didn’t make adjustments to the recreation budget or senior budget, Hammers said she would be writing letters to voice her concerns on the fees issue, and any board members who agree may sign their name.
The budget now heads to the Town Council for vetting and a vote.