The Board of Selectmen finished days of review and approved a preliminary $342.7 million operating budget for the 2022-23 fiscal year with a 2-1 vote.
Selectwoman Nancy Lefkowitz voted against the budget because more than $2 million was removed from the Board of Education’s budget. The Board of Education will still see an increase of $7.9 million
“I just think that the budget that they presented is the budget they need to educate our kids and for the health and safety of our kids,” she said. “I think the Fairfield School District came up with a budget that they needed and reducing it by $2 million—I think it will prevent them from doing the best job they can.”
Selectman Thomas Flynn stated that he was against adding back the funding for the Board of Education because it was still receiving an increase. Flynn also noted that enrollment has been declining in the district, while costs have not.
“What’s not coming through the budget right now is the affordability aspect,” he said, adding that many residents can’t afford a large tax increase. “What is the best possible school system that we can afford—that’s what's not coming through in these budget discussions.”
The approved Board of Selectmen budget is very similar to the initial one proposed by First Selectwoman Brenda Kupchick.
The budget includes:
- Making the Director of Social Services a full-time position to “address increasing assistance needed for the financial impact of COVID on low income residents, and mental health services.”
- Consolidating two part-time roles into a full-time director for the senior center who can focus on providing increased services for seniors
- Adding two police officers to “address new demands on law enforcement.”
- Eliminating and replacing the positions of engineer drafter and instrument operator with a new senior civil engineer and project manager.
- Adding $7.9 million, or a 4.12% increase for the Board of Education, about $2 million less than the board requested.
The Board of Selectmen made minor changes, which ended up being cost neutral to the overall budget. Those changes included:
- Increasing the amount of revenue the Town Clerk’s office would bring in through recording fees by $50,000
- Decreasing the crossing guards fund by $159,230 because that fund was previously moved to the Board of Education budget and not removed from the town’s side
- Decreasing the Emergency Communications Center budget by $28,639 due to a clerical error
- Decreasing the seasonal and part-time payroll for Penfield Pavilion by $33,350
- Removing an ADA compliance line item by $1,000
- Reducing the unemployment compensation budget by $100,000
- Increasing the paving budget by $200,000
- Adding $122,219 to the town’s contingency fund
“As came out during our discussions last week, we have virtually all of the town’s employment contracts in negotiation right now,” said Flynn, who advocated for putting the $122,219 in contingency “for a cushion.”
Kupchick said that the additional funding for paving was necessary because the roads need it and it’s a “hot topic” in town, particularly among elected officials.
“I hear loud and clear members who say we should include more funding in our operating budget (for paving),” she said.
The budget will now be sent to the Board of Finance for review. After the Board of Finance makes any adjustments and then approves it, it will be sent on to the Representative Town Meeting for final adoption.
The Board of Finance will now begin its review of the budget and will be holding its first public budget session on Thursday, March 10 at 7:30 p.m.