Letter — Finance board budget prioritizes public safety, education

To the editor:

Last Wednesday, the Board of Finance voted to recommend a 2020-21 municipal budget of $178.95 million, reducing the first selectman’s already lean spending proposal and eliminating any increase in taxes.

To realize a zero-tax increase, the board voted to reduce the town and Board of Education’s operating budgets by an additional $1.1 million, capture savings by refinancing existing debt, and transfer $2.9 million from the town’s general fund balance to the operating budget. Part of the $1.1 million in spending reductions is a recommended one-year freeze on previously negotiated pay increases for all town employees, with the exception of police, EMS and fire marshals.

In the midst of a global pandemic that has hobbled economies around the world and has hit municipalities hard, many in our community are struggling with lost income and businesses are hemorrhaging revenue during extended shutdowns. Currently, there are 20 million unemployed nationwide and many of those lucky to keep their positions are being asked to take salary reductions of 10-25 percent.

We did not make this decision lightly, recognizing as difficult as things are now, this might be just the first bands of a coming storm. The unemployment rate in Connecticut is estimated to rise upwards of 20 percent by July. If town and BOE employees agree to come to the table and not take raises this year, Trumbull should not have to add to that statistic.

The budget being sent on to the town council prioritizes public safety and education, providing $108.8 million to the Board of Education, an increase of nearly $2.7 million, or 2.53 percent, over current year. Previously negotiated salary increases for BOE employees account for $1.72 million of their request.

We rejected a motion made by our Republican counterparts calling for us to carry forward the current year’s budget - meaning adopt a budget for the upcoming fiscal year that had zero spending increase across the board, including education, a reduction of their entire $4.8 million request. This would be decimating to the school system and seriously impact the town’s ability to provide critical services.

Prior to the world turning upside down, First Selectman Tesoro proposed a budget with a modest spending increase of 2.72 percent, driven mostly by contractual wages, benefits, and fixed costs. The tax increase under that plan would have been 2.59 percent.

Six weeks ago, a 2.59 percent tax increase seemed reasonable. But, the global pandemic and the catastrophic impact on the economy has changed everything. We feel a strong obligation not to increase the financial burden on our residents. Yet, despite desperate times, we must remain committed to preserving investment in the education and welfare of our children, and public safety.

This budget accomplishes both while retaining a solid general fund balance of $21.04 million, 11.8 percent of overall spending, safely above the 10 percent threshold credit-rating agencies use as the benchmark for municipal fiscal health.

It is our sincere hope that through careful planning and shared sacrifice, Trumbull will weather this storm and enjoy brighter days ahead.

Lainie McHugh (D) Board of Finance, chairman

Paul Timpanelli (D) vice chairman

Marty Isaac (D)

Michael Barker (D)

Christine El Eris, (D), alternate

Vincent Degenaro, (U), alternate

Marc Mascola, Sr. (R), alternate