Herbst proposes 2017-18 budget

First Selectman Tim Herbst
First Selectman Tim Herbst

The $168.4-million budget proposal for 2017-18 that First Selectman Tim Herbst presented to the Board of Finance last week will increase spending about 2.9%, but due to projected grand list growth, will require a 1.9% tax hike to fund, Herbst said. But Herbst warned that Gov. Dannel Malloy’s plan to reduce Trumbull’s municipal aid could saddle homeowners with a significant extra burden.

The possibility of a state aid cut required Herbst to deliver a 400-page budget with two separate proposals, he said.

“The first option will be the budget I prepared before the state budget was announced,” Herbst told the finance board. “The second budget will be the impact of $5.6 million in cuts as proposed by Gov. Malloy. If Gov. Malloy’s reductions are fully realized, the people of Trumbull could potentially see a 5.89% tax increase. As this budget proceeds through the Board of Finance and Trumbull Town Council, rest assured that I will veto any budget that delivers a tax increase above 2%.”

If state funding remains steady, Herbst’s budget proposal would require a tax increase of 1.9%, from 32.74 mills to 33.38. To put that in perspective, Herbst included the tax bills for his own home and those of several other current and former elected officials. Under his plan, Herbst’s own real estate taxes would rise from $7,556 to $7,697. (Full budget document online.)

The bulk of the proposed 2017-18 budget is allocated to the school system. The Board of Education had requested a 3.5% budget increase, which Herbst trimmed to a 2.8% increase.

The town does not have line-item control of the school budget; it is appropriated as a lump sum. Still, Herbst said in examining the school budget request, he was confident that there was sufficient projected savings that school programs would not be affected by the reduction.

Herbst went on to criticize Malloy and state Democrats for the governor’s proposal to eliminate $3.4 million in school aid to Trumbull, a decision Herbst called “the greatest assault on education in the history of the town.” Worsening the situation is that the state budget will not be final until June, while Trumbull must approve a budget in April.

“This is causing tremendous anxiety,” Herbst said. “The concern is if we approve the budget, do we make cuts now based on Malloy’s recommendation, or is this going to change? Do we cut now or do we gamble? How do you navigate this?”

[AUDIO: Tim Herbst, in response to question about the effect of Gov. Dannel Malloy's proposed municipal aid cuts, questions the silence of local Democrats on the issue. Story continues under audio.]

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Among other budget highlights Herbst pointed out in his summary, the town’s unallocated fund balance is $18.6 million, or about 11.7% of the budget. Herbst also pointed out that contributions to the town’s pension fund have increased a cumulative $45.8 million, and new hires now receive defined contribution plans, rather than town-funded pensions.

“Between the town and Board of Education noncertified personnel, we have successfully negotiated nine labor agreements that now have a defined contribution plan for new employee hires, which long term will reduce the town’s unfunded pension liability,” Herbst said. “Eight years later, we have set our pension systems on a path to prosperity, where continued commitment in the operating budget and a diversified investment strategy will lead to a pension system that is fully funded.”

The Board of Finance and Town Council Finance Committee will hold two public hearings on the budget. The first is Feb. 23 at 7 p.m. at Town Hall. The second is March 11 at 10 a.m. at Madison Middle School.