Town eyes changes to budget schedule

Trumbull may revise its annual budget schedule following a change in state law to give towns a little financial flexibility. The Town Council has on its January agenda a resolution pushing back to March 1 the deadline for First Selectman Vicki Tesoro to submit a budget. The current deadline is February 10. The council could also move back its own deadline to pass a budget from April 30 to May 15.

As part of last year’s bipartisan budget approval, state lawmakers gave municipalities the ability to revise their budget timelines through municipal ordinance. Previously changes to the annual budget schedule could require a charter revision, a lengthy process.

“That change was a great example of bipartisanship in a closely divided state House and Senate,” said state Rep. David Rutigliano (R-123rd District), one of the measure’s co-sponsors. “It never made any sense for towns to have a deadline to submit their budgets, but we [the legislature] could push ours back indefinitely. It was a mess, frankly.”

Two years ago, the state budget process dragged into October. Towns like Trumbull, which had finalized its municipal budget in April, were forced to guess what the state’s contributions would be.

“When the state doesn’t get its process finished on time, it leaves towns in a guessing game,” Tesoro said. “It’s very hard to determine a budget when you have to do guesswork on revenue.”

Tesoro said she hoped to take advantage of the change in state law to adjust the annual budget schedule by a few weeks. This change won’t solve the problem, though, because the towns still could have to approve a budget before the state.

“At least this gets us closer,” Tesoro said. “Even if the state hasn’t finalized its budget, the later deadline for us means that the process is farther along. As the state gets closer to voting on a budget, there will be more information out there.”

Rutigliano agreed that moving the dates for municipal budget approval puts towns in a better position, as long as the legislature does its work in a timely manner.

“If you’re going to be fair, look at a town like Trumbull. You have a first selectman get elected in November, they get sworn in in December, and they have to have a municipal budget done in February,” Rutigliano said. A similar situation exists at the state level, he said. “The governor is supposed to submit a budget the first week in February, he hasn’t even been sworn in yet [Gov.-Elect Ned Lamont will be inaugurated January 9]. This gets the towns closer to the state timeline, and if we do our work on time it matches up pretty well.”

The council is expected to vote on the resolution at its January 7 meeting.