Herbst presents budget proposal with 2.17% increase
First Selectman Tim Herbst’s proposed budget for 2015-16 fiscal year, representing a 2.17% increase over the current year, accomplishes goals the first selectman said he has wanted to achieve for some time.
Herbst said his spending plan would make government “smaller and smarter” by reorganizing certain departments, eliminating about three full-time positions, and finding efficiencies.
The $160.3 million proposal, sent to the Board of Finance Monday, would mean a 2.19% mill rate increase for town taxpayers, if approved.
“This budget is as lean as you can possibly get while honoring our commitments and our obligations,” Herbst said Tuesday. “I should point out there is only a .54 % increase in town-side expenditures — which is inclusive of contractual obligations and general wage increases.”
About 1.42% of the increase can be attributed to Board of Education side of the budget. Another .28% is due to increased pension contributions. The town’s debt service is down .06%.
In the proposal, Herbst reduces the Board of Education’s request from a 2.94% increase to 2.34%. Herbst said his school budget is still enough to eliminate pay to participate this year, without hurting any education programs.
The budget also creates a town health department, following the Town Council’s vote to leave the Trumbull Monroe Health District.
In the budget, the town and police pensions are both funded at the annual required contribution.
“This is probably the first time in the town’s history that the annual required contribution for both the town and police pensions funds is now fully funded,” Herbst said.
Trumbull’s Board of Education approved a $97.8 million budget, proposed by Superintendent Gary Cialfi last month. Herbst has proposed eliminating $573,734 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.
At the time of school budget talks, Cialfi had said he could eliminate an additional $153,000 from the budgetthough school board members preferred to leave it in, since a long process was ahead.
A major topic of school budget talks has centered on pay to participate fees. Herbst and Cialfi were collaborating a plan to lower the fees next year, though Herbst has now championed eliminating the fees entirely.
“If you are sitting on $90-plus million budget and you can’t find half a million or $400,000 to eliminate pay to participate, there is a problem,” Herbst said. “If I had line item control of that budget, I would find it.”
Moving to a new prescription plan would allow the district to save and not touch any school programs or initiatives Cialfi would like to add next year, he said.
Herbst mentioned Shelton’s mayor as an example of what can be done on a tight budget.
“If Mark Lauretti can reduce an operating budget to levels well below those in Trumbull, implement full-day kindergarten and eliminate pay to participate fees, then our Board of Education needs to make it work as well,” Herbst said.
Some have asked why Herbst has been so focused on the fees this year. He said athletics and extracurricular programs can be a student’s key to college.
“When a child participates in athletics or fine arts, that could mean the difference between a child being able to afford going to college and not going to college,” he said. “Given what people pay in taxes in this town, I don’t think we need these ancillary taxes.”
A few positions in town departments, that were part-time or vacant, have been eliminated in next year’s budget. Other departments and positions have been reorganized.
The Parks and Recreation Department has been part of the reorganization. The town has had both a recreation director and a parks superintendent, who are in two different unions. Delegation of duties has not been clearly defined, Herbst said. His proposal adds a new director of Parks and Recreation, who would oversee both. Other positions in that department have been reorganized and some services will be outsourced, saving about $41,000, he said. Herbst hopes a new director can help promote and add programs, increasing revenue for the department.
Following the town’s decision to withdraw from a regional health district and create its own department, Herbst budget includes a plan to do so. The town will leave the district July 1, the start of the new budget year.
The town contributed $315,380 to the Trumbull Monroe Health District. The town’s own health department has a budget of $297,991, meaning slight savings. The department will hire three full-time positions and two part-time.
Herbst said he is proud of savings and efficiencies found in other departments. Director of Labor Relations James Haselkamp has helped the town transition to a new health care consultant and pharmacy benefits administrator that has helped save $202,000.
In the Public Works Department, a new municipal solid waste agreement will save taxpayers $1.3 million over the next 10 years.
Town Treasurer John Ponzio said when he and Herbst came into office in 2009, town pensions were funded at 27% and now are funded at about 34%. The police pension is currently funded at 70%, though Ponzio said they also want to see that improve.
During the past year, Trumbull’s town pension plan has seen $1.4 million of investment earnings and a positive cash flow of $1.3 million, according to Ponzio.
Ponzio said the administration has worked to increase funding, get new employees in a defined contribution plan and increase investment earnings.
The police pension has also recently changed administrators, so it has the same one as the town, Ponzio said.
“This was very high on the list of things that had to be fixed,” Ponzio said of pensions under the Herbst administration. “We were able to get the bond rating increased by Standard & Poors — just one small notch below Aaa.”
Ponzio and Herbst say they wouldn’t mind more positive growth in the grand list, but expect better results next year.
“This year the grand list showed a very minor uptick,” Herbst said.
The first selectman points out that there has been growth in the list, even during recession years, from 2009 to the present, which Herbst thinks is a good sign.
“We are expecting significant growth to come on the tax rolls next year,” he said.
That growth will include the completion of a new medical center at 5520 Park Ave., a shopping center project on Madison Avenue, a new building project south of Marisa’s Ristorante, among other renovations and additions.
The Board of Finance has started budget hearings, a full calendar can be found at Trumbull-ct.gov. After the Board of Finance votes on the budget, it will move to the Town Council for vetting.