A new police department dispatch console, two new police cars, a new parking lot and air-conditioning unit at South Elementary School: all these and much more were made to disappear before they existed at the Board of Selectmen's 2013-14 budget-trimming session on Friday, Jan 25.
By the end of the day, the selectmen chopped more than $2.9 million from a proposed budget that contained $13 million more in spending than that of 2012-13.
They cut the percentage of increase from almost 11 percent to about an 8.6 percent.
Each morning last week, and in several afternoon sessions, the three selectmen spent hours listening to each department's requests and then going line-by-line, hemming and hawing over what to cut and what to keep.
In making his pitch for four new police cars for the department's 16-vehicle fleet, Police Chief Ed Nadriczny expressed his frustration over not having received a full complement of cars for several years, with the result being that the department's emergency response vehicles are aging. First Selectman Robert Mallozzi said that he shared the chief's frustration, but that cuts must be made.
"It's guns and butter at this point," Mallozzi said, referencing the old political saying about the tradeoff between defense and social spending.
It was the sort of nitty-gritty work that governments do that rarely gets noticed but will have a real impact on town services and taxation in the year to come.
"We are not going to get this budget anywhere near presentable, in my opinion, unless we get this more cut," Mallozzi said at the beginning of Friday's session, after having cut about $1.2 million the day before. By the end of the meeting, the trio had reached almost $3 million in cuts, nearly $1 million more than they cut last year.
But last year the requests were also a lot lower. The budget needed only to be cut from a starting point of a roughly 4.5 percent increase. It was knocked down to 2.7 percent, which meant a 1.6 percent tax increase. Even if the Board of Finance, which sees the proposed budget next, takes a butcher knife to its increases, the feeling among the selectmen seemed to be that it would not get chopped down to that level.
The budget will now head to the Board of Finance, and when that body is done with it, will be passed on to the Town Council, which can approve, reject or decrease it.
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