The next RTM meetings are on Monday, May 7th and Tuesday, May 8th at 7:30 pm in Town Hall (110 Myrtle Avenue). If necessary there will be a third meeting on Wednesday May 9th at the same time and in the same place. You can watch the meetings on Cablevision channel 79, Frontier channel 99, or online here. You can see the official agenda by clicking here. Disclaimer: What’s below is my interpretation of the agenda and not an official communication from the RTM.
With respect to the fiscal year 2018-2019 budget, the RTM will discuss the following:
- On MONDAY, whether to approve the First Selectman’s budget of $80,179,853 (an increase of 0.93% from FY 2017-2018) and appropriate that sum,
- On TUESDAY, whether to approve the Board of Education’s budget of $116,173,800 (an increase of 1.57% from FY 2017-2018) and other line items, including aid to private and parochial schools and debt service, for a total Education budget of $127,313,182 (an increase of 1.09% from FY 2017-2018) and appropriate that sum,
- Whether to approve the Town Railroad Parking Fund Budget,
- Whether to approve the Town Sewer Fund Budget,
- Whether to approve the Wakeman Town Farm Fund Budget, and
- Logistics related to the timing of tax payments.
The RTM will also discuss the following as time permits on Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday:
- The first reading of a proposed ordinance prohibiting the use of artificial turf containing synthetic infill,
- Whether to ratify the collective bargaining agreement between the Town of Westport and the Westport Municipal Employees Union and appropriate the amounts required under that agreement,
- Whether to approve an $150,000 appropriation (and related bond and note authorization) to purchase a combination garbage and recycling truck for the Parks and Recreation Department,
- Whether to approve a $950,000 appropriation (and related bond and note authorization) to bury utility lines and reconstruct the Elm Street roadway with new sidewalks and lighting, and
- Whether to approve a $360,000 appropriation (and related bond and note authorization) for the repair of a headwall and 3 culverts under Canal Road.
BUDGET OVERVIEW (Agenda Items #1 and #2):
As shown in the table below, Westport’s proposed budget – including education expenses – is $207,493,035, which would be an increase of 1.03% as compared to fiscal year 2017-2018. Public Works, Health, and Parks & Recreation would have the largest percentage increases at 4.10%, 5.54%, and 8.86%, respectively. The total proposed education budget is $127,313,182, which would be an increase of 1.09%. The town (non-education) budget would be approximately $80,200,000, which would be an increase of 0.93%.
The grand list for the town increased by approximately 1.5%. The Board of Finance will set the mill rate in mid-May. Their stated goal is to maintain the current mill rate at 16.86. Committee Chair and RTM Deputy Moderator Jeff Wieser wrote an excellent RTM Finance Committee report that that reviews, among other things, the historical mill rate in Westport and compares it to the mill rate of other towns. You can read the report by clicking here: RTM Budget Report 2018-19
As depicted in the pie chart below, education expenses make up the majority of the budget. This is common in our peer towns as well because the wealthier the town, the less funding the schools receive from the state budget. Currently, Westport receives almost no funding from the State of Connecticut for education costs.
AGENDA ITEM #1: Whether to approve the First Selectman’s budget of $80,179,853 (an increase of 0.93% from FY 2017-2018) and appropriate that sum
The RTM will begin deliberations regarding this agenda item on Monday, May 7th. The pie chart below shows the allocation of the town budget, excluding education expenses.
Here are some high-level observations regarding a few categories. Unless otherwise specified, comparisons are based on the proposed FY 2018-2019 budget verses the FY 2017-2018 budget:
- General Government: Under the proposed budget, spending would be up by $53,000, or 0.89%. The three categories that take up the largest percentage of the proposed general government budget are Information Technology, the Finance Department, and the Town Attorney, and spending in these categories would change by -0.32%, -0.09%, and 0%, respectively. Spending for Planning & Zoning would increase by $35,270, or 6.13%, due in part to the addition of a part-time planner to handle FEMA issues and a more realistic projection of overtime hours for the next fiscal year. Revenues generated by Planning & Zoning are expected to completely offset expenses. Spending by the town clerk would increase by $39,995, or %9.61%, due in part to increases in state fees.
- Public Safety: Under the proposed budget, spending would increase by $359,276, or 1.72%. This category includes the Police, the Fire Department, Building Inspection, the Dog Warden, and the EMS, among other things. The Police Department and Police Vehicle Maintenance budget line items would increase by $198,317 (2.35%) and $39,198 (12.37%), respectively. The increase in the Police Department budget is due largely to contractual collectively bargained raises. The Fire Department and Fire Water Service budget line items would increase by $64,748 (0.71%) and $20,387 (1.71%), respectively.
- Pension, OPEB, Health Insurance, and Other Benefits/Insurance: While the proposed budget for Pensions and OPEB are decreasing by $1.7 million (-20.2%) and $233,000 (-4.5%), respectively, the Health Insurance budget is increasing by $1.1 million or 14.8%. The decrease in the budget for OPEB expenses is due largely to the great performance of the invested funds. The proposed budget for Workers Compensation Insurance, Liability Insurance, Auto Insurance, Property Insurance, Social Security, Salary Adjustments, Unemployment, and Transit District insurance would increase by $204,000 (4.9%).
- Public Works: Under the proposed budget, spending for Public Works would increase by $399,701, or 4.1%. The majority of this increase comes from an increased quantity of solid waste and the related disposal costs, along with increased “highway” costs due to the need to purchase a woodchipper.
AGENDA ITEM #2: Whether to approve the Board of Education’s budget of $116,173,800 (an increase of 1.57% from FY 2017-2018) and other line items, including aid to private and parochial schools and debt service, for a total Education budget of $127,313,182 (an increase of 1.01% from FY 2017-2018) and appropriate that sum
The RTM will begin deliberations regarding this agenda item on Tuesday, May 8th. The information in this section assumes that the RTM effectively approves the Board of Education’s request to return $1,128,000. The Board of Finance initially cut $2,050,000 from the Board of Education’s budget, with the stated intent that $750,000 be non-insurance related cuts and $1,300,000 would come from the savings anticipated from moving all seven unions to the Connecticut state health insurance plan. When negotiations were deadlocked with the largest union, the Board of Finance restored $1,128,000 so that the Board of Education wouldn’t feel pressured to enter into a deal with that union that would be detrimental to future collective bargaining agreement negotiations. After reaching a deal with that union, the Board of Education decided to return the $1,128,000 and it did not seek any restoration of the $222,000 of insurance related savings it did not realize due to the increase in the state health plans’ premiums.
The education budget as a whole, which includes the Board of Education budget and other categories like debt service and required aid to private and parochial schools, would increase by $1,375,091 (1.09%). The Board of Education budget would increase by 1.57%. The overall budget increase is due largely to unanticipated health care costs and contractual collectively bargained raises.
The school district has also faced increasing special education costs, and these costs are mandated by law based on each child’s need. As reported by the Connecticut School Finance Project, this is a challenge facing school districts across Connecticut. The percentage of students with special needs is depicted in the chart on the right in the green. And in Westport, the level of services that these children need overall is more extensive than in years past. This is one reason that even though enrollment is declining, per pupil expenditures haven’t decreased yet as well.
The RTM has no jurisdiction over how the Board of Education spends its allocated budget, but according to Superintendent Dr. Palmer, the cuts that would be necessary to implement the proposed budget might include:
- Non-structural changes, like reducing supplies, summer guidance work, deferring replacement of technology, and reducing costs for athletic supplies and uniforms, and
- Structural changes, like reducing an elementary school teacher and two instructional technology teachers, changing to one hybrid team at Coleytown Middle School, delaying a mental health initiative at the middle schools, and delaying a math intervention at Bedford Middle School.
AGENDA ITEM #3: Whether to approve the Town Railroad Parking Fund budget
The proposed Railroad Parking Fund budget is $1,832,990, which is an increase of 13.38%. This increase is due mostly to debt service for repaving Lot 1. Note that the anticipated revenues of $2,032,500 for fiscal year 2018-2019 exceed these proposed expenses by $199,510, even before any increase in Railroad Parking fees.
The police department is considering increasing the daily parking fee from $5 to $6.
AGENDA ITEM #4: Whether to approve the Town Sewer Fund Budget
The benefit-assessed budget for the Sewer Fund is $4,783,623, which is up 1.1% from fiscal year 2017-2018.
The Wakeman Town Farm Fund budget is $220,728, which is down 22.6% from fiscal year 2018-2019. This budget does not effect the calculation of the mill rate for property tax purposes.
AGENDA ITEM #6: Whether to approve certain logistics related to tax payments
The RTM will vote whether to approve what seem to be ordinary logistics related to the collection of taxes, which include the following:
- All taxes in an amount of $100,00 or less would be due in a single installment of July 1st,
- Motor vehicle taxes would be due in a single installment, and
- Property taxes in an amount over $100 would be due in four quarterly installments on July 1st, October 1st, January 1st, and April 1st.
AGENDA ITEM #7: The first reading of a proposed ordinance prohibiting the use of artificial turf containing synthetic infill
The draft ordinance states the following:
An Ordinance Prohibiting the Use of Any man-made infill from recycled or virgin materials including but not limited to ambient and cryogenic crumb rubber, coated crumb rubber, ethylene propylene diene monomer granules, thermoplastic elastomer granules, and recycled footwear in the town of Westport, Connecticut.
(1) Artificial Turf. Any man-made surface manufactured from synthetic materials which simulate the appearance of live turf, grass, sod, or lawn.
(2) Synthetic Infill Material. Any man-made infill from recycled or virgin materials including but not limited to ambient and cryogenic crumb rubber, coated crumb rubber, ethylene propylene diene monomer granules, thermoplastic elastomer granules, and recycled footwear.
(3) Organic Infill Material. Any material utilizing organic components such as cork, coconut husks, rice husks, silica sand, or acrylic coated sand.
(1) The use of artificial turf containing synthetic infill materials shall be prohibited.
(2) The use of artificial turf containing organic infill materials or containing no infill material shall be permitted, provided that: (a) Such use is in compliance with all applicable environmental laws and regulations; and (b) Any infill is composed completely of organic materials; and (c) The use of artificial turf does not exceed the impervious coverage requirements
AGENDA ITEM #8: Whether to ratify the collective bargaining agreement between the Town of Westport and the Westport Municipal Employees Union and appropriate the amounts required under that agreement
The Westport Municipal Employees Union (Local 1303-387, Council 4, AFSCME, AFL-CIO) represents 64 town employees with a wide range of jobs, including engineers, conservation analysts, civilian dispatchers, and accounting assistants. With First Selectman Marpe’s authorization, Personnel Director Ralph Chetcuti conducted the negotiations with the WMEU and likely saved the town thousands in legal fees.
The collective bargaining agreement would cover the period from July 1, 2017 through June 30, 2021, and employees would get wage increases of 2.5% each fiscal year. The employees’ health care contributions to the cost of insurance for the fiscal years 2017-2018, 2018-2019, 2019-2020, and 2020-2021 would be 11%, 12%, 13%, and 14%, respectively. Employees hired after July 14, 2017 would participated in a defined contribution plan with a match by the town of 5% of base compensation. Employees hired before July 14, 2017 would contribute 4.5%, 5.0%, 5.5%, and 6.5% of base compensation to the pension plan effective July 1, 2017, July 1, 2018, July 1, 2019 and July 1, 2020, respectively.
If the RTM ratifies the agreement, it would also appropriate $91,959 and $94,258 to meet its obligations under the agreement for the fiscal years 2017-2018 and 2018-2019, respectively.
AGENDA ITEM #9: Whether to approve an appropriation of $150,000 (and related bond and note authorization) to purchase a combination garbage and recycling truck
The combination garbage and recycling truck would replace a 2001, trash-only vehicle with a 30+ year-old compacting unit that is unrepairable. The dual-functionality of the truck would reduce the crews needed to complete garbage and recycling from two to one.
According to Parks and Recreation Director Jennifer Fava, if the town outsourced the garbage collection, (1) the outside company would not change bags or pick up trash from the surrounding area, (2) the outside company wouldn’t have the same flexibility to do additional runs when necessary and during certain events, and (3) the town wouldn’t be able to use to truck for clean-up after severe weather events.
AGENDA ITEM #10: Whether to approve a $950,000 appropriation (and related bond and note authorization) to bury utility lines and reconstruct the Elm Street roadway with new sidewalks and lighting
This appropriation request is part of the work needed to complete a land swap between local developer David Waldman and the town of Westport. Mr. Waldman plans to build a new, two-story retail and residential building at 35 Elm St. As part of this development, the town will get .15449 acres across the road at 36 Elm Street to be used for town parking in return for a .15395-acre property in the Baldwin Lot at 35 Elm Street. The work will include new underground utilities, sidewalks, curbs, street lighting, and roadway.
Although the appropriation is for $950,000, the developer is obligated to pay the town $750,000 of this amount as part of the land swap deal.
AGENDA ITEM #11: Whether to approve a $360,000 appropriation (and related bond and note authorization) for the repair of a headwall and 3 culverts under Canal Road
As you may recall and can read about here, funds for the design of this headwall were appropriated by the RTM in January 2018. The cost to repair the eroded culverts and headwall would be $360,000, and would be substituted for a lower priority project in the capital forecast. The construction would begin after the school year is complete.
Disclaimer: What’s above is my interpretation of the agenda and not an official communication from the RTM.