In Darien, the Board of Selectmen have proposed a $40.6 million operating budget on the city side, along with $3.5 million in capital expenses, while the Board of Education is proposing to spend $114.5 million in its operating budget for the upcoming fiscal year.
First Selectwoman Monica McNally told the Board of Finance that this budget aims to “maintain or modestly improve services to our residents while mitigating the increase in the tax rate.”
“The Board of Selectman budget proposed budget addresses the changing needs of our community as we embrace the unprecedented growth in Darien,” McNally said.
Dineen said that on the school side, this budget focuses on “investing in our kids” and “investing in our facilities.”
Proposed Budget by the Numbers
The total town side budget of $44.1 million is a $5.3 million increase over last year’s budget or 13.54%. The biggest increase was on the capital side, with capital expenses going from $599,423 to $3.5 million.
On the school side, the proposed $114.5 million operating budget is a 3.56% increase over last year’s. Dineen said that the Board of Education worked to “look at efficiencies” and cut about $1.5 million from the superintendent’s request before forwarding it on to the Board of Finance.
Highlights from the Proposed Budget
On the town side, McNally said that Darien is seeing “both the positive impacts of the growth” in town due to redevelopment projects as well as “the increased need for services.”
The proposed budget calls for:
- An increase of 3.5 positions, primarily in public safety with the addition of a police officer and emergency service director, and shifting a part-time fire marshal position to full-time. McNally said that the increased need for services has been “primarily in the area of public safety,” which is why the town needs these positions.
- Additional funding to address “higher than normal increases in medical insurance premiums” and to help settle outstanding union contracts
- More funding for debt service that the town will be taking on due to its purchase of Great Island and construction on the Hindley, Holmes, and Royle school construction project
The capital budget calls for funding the town’s paving program; replacing vehicles for police, fire marshals, EMS, and public works; as well as repairs and maintenance around the town’s parks and buildings.
On the school side, Dineen highlighted five major priorities in the proposed budget:
- Supporting the district’s strategic plan: The budget aims to continue to enhance course and club offerings for students and to keep class sizes as small as possible.
- Increasing safety and security measures: The budget continues the school security officer model the district put in place last year . “We are turning out to be a leader in this area,” Dineen said. “And now several other districts are following us in this model.”
- Providing mental health resources: The budget supports a director of mental health as well as additional staff at the wellness center at the high school to allow for more hours, programs, and resources there. “You know the challenges we went through over the last couple of years,” Dineen said, adding that they have to “help students handle stress” and figure out how to reduce anxiety.
- Addressing the substitute teacher shortages
- Supporting special education programs: The budget includes funding for two more special education teachers as well as six special education paraprofessionals.
The Board of Finance, as it deliberates the budget, is also finalizing how the town will pay for its $83 million purchase of Great Island and how that will impact the tax levy in town in addition to these budgets.
On the school side, the district is projecting for enrollment to continue to slightly increase, which could require adding teachers and/or other staff.
Superintendent Alan Addley said that there’s “no grace, so to speak” in the budget, meaning that if more students than expected enroll over the summer, he might have to come before the Board of Education and Board of Finance to ask for more funding for staff.
The Board of Finance will begin its review of the budget over the next month, along with the Representative Town Meeting’s Finance and Budget Committee. Some important dates include:
- March 14: Board of Finance public hearing
- April 6: Board of Finance vote on the budget
- May 8: Representative Town Meeting vote on the budget