Finance board tweaks budget

Elaine Hammers
Elaine Hammers

Town parks, employee benefits and school contingencies received a bit of a boost from the Board of Finance, as the panel revised First Selectman Vicki Tesoro’s budget proposal and added about $340,000. Those additions brought Tesoro’s $169.67-million 2018-19 budget to about $170.02 million.

The bulk of the increases came from two line items: the workers’ compensation fund and the contingency fund. Finance board Chairman Elaine Hammers said the additions brought the town more into line with what it historically spent on workers’ comp and also provided funds to hire additional elementary school teachers. The Board of Education has identified five grades where any additional students would require another teacher, she said.

“Each additional teacher, you figure it costs $75,000 [salary and benefits], but we won’t need all five, so we split it and added $150,000,” she said. “If they end up not needing to hire any teachers, then that money is available to put toward the programs we’ve been talking about to help fight school violence.”

The workers’ comp fund paid out $1.3 million in 2015, $1.6 million in 2016 and $1.5 million last year. Tesoro had budgeted $1.3 million, to which the Board of Finance added another $100,000.

The remainder of the finance board’s adjustments were mostly fine-tuning changes of about $10,000 or less. The lone larger change was $30,000 to hire a part-time park ranger.

“There were some that wanted to stick with the first selectman’s numbers, and to use supplemental funds if we need to,” Hammers said. “But if there’s one thing we’ve learned from credit rating agencies, it’s to budget properly for known expenses, and don’t screw with the fund balance.”

Under the revised budget approved by the Republican-controlled board along party lines, the average tax increase for a home assessed at $250,000 would rise from $162.84 to just over $163, Hammers said.

“Increasing the average homeowner’s taxes by less than a dollar to shore up workers’ comp and either reduce class sizes or start planning school violence programs, that’s a dollar well spent,” she said.

The 2018-19 budget now heads to the Town Council for its review.