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6 percent more in taxes expected

Updated 4:52 pm, Thursday, April 10, 2014

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  • Town Council members Kathleen Corbet, Bill Walbert, Steve Karl and Penny Young at a meeting Wednesday, April 9, 2014, at the Nature Center in New Canaan, Conn. The council approved a $138.3 million budget for the 2014-15 fiscal year. Photo: Nelson Oliveira / New Canaan News
    Town Council members Kathleen Corbet, Bill Walbert, Steve Karl and Penny Young at a meeting Wednesday, April 9, 2014, at the Nature Center in New Canaan, Conn. The council approved a $138.3 million budget for the 2014-15 fiscal year. Photo: Nelson Oliveira

 

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Fiscal year 2015
Total town operating, all debt service, all capital expenditures and Board of Education operating expenses: $138,303,112
Town operating expenses: $40,753,166
Board of Education's operating expenses: $80,870,557
Board of Education's capital: $867,361
Capital projects for the town and Board of Education to be funded through Capital & Nonrecurring Fund: $2,521,193
Amount to be raised by taxation: $127,035,728
Preliminary mill rate: 15.515
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The New Canaan Town Council Wednesday approved a $138,303,112 budget for fiscal year 2015, a 4.74 percent increase over fiscal year 2014.

The amount includes all town operating expenses, debt service, capital expenditures and Board of Education operating expenses.

The budget includes previously contentious expenses, such as a license-plate reader and two additional officers for the Police Department.

Councilmen Roger Williams and John Emert voted against the Board of Education's operating budget as well as a $464,493 capital expenditure for wireless infrastructure upgrades at Saxe Middle School and the high school.

"We should slow down," Emert said referring to the cost of upgrading the technology infrastructure at the schools. "There are a number of issues that I think we need to consider, stakeholders that need to be heard."

The Board of Education's $80.9 million operating budget passed as recommended by the Board of Finance in March. The amount is $2.9 million higher than the current year's budget and $2.3 million lower than what the board requested in January.

After revenue, the town will have to raise $127,035,728 through taxation, 3.72 percent more than the current year. The total estimated revenue for the upcoming fiscal year is $11,267,384, an increase of $442,881.

With the new budget, the town's preliminary mill rate is projected at 15.515, or $15.52 for every $1,000 of assessed property value, which in an increase of 6.37 percent over the current year. The official mill rate will be set after the assessment appeals process is complete.

Although the Town Council approved additional officers for the Police Department, it cut $25,000 from the department's overtime budget. Emert said the reduction aimed at encouraging the department to "promote better control of overtime."

The council agreed that the additional officers, as well as a new scheduling software that was also approved for the department, would help the reduction take place. The department has a force of 45 officers, but only 39 of them are active. The other six are either injured, on vacation or in training.

"The software will help, but I'm also hoping that there will be fairly constant look at who's out, why are they out, are they sick, injured? And that should be done in a real-time basis," Emert said.

Councilmen Kathleen Corbet reminded the council that the new total number of officers could be reduced in the future if the number of active officers increases.

Each of the two new officers would cost the town about $114,000, including salary and benefits, according to Police Chief Leon Krolikowski. With the additions, Saxe Middle School soon will have a full-time school resource officer.

The department's first license-plate reader, which will cost $20,000, also was approved. After some privacy concerns, Krolikowski was able to convince the council that the plate reader would not be used to store data of innocent drivers. The chief committed to a 14-day data retention period, unless there is a crime.

As for the schools' wireless upgrade project, Emert, who made a motion to cut the project from the budget, said he would "like to see the town's ICT department weigh in" on the expenditure.

In previous budget meetings, Robert Miller, the school district's director of information and communication technologies, said the strength of the schools' wireless network is insufficient to pass through every classroom wall. The project calls for one wireless access point per two or three classrooms.

Councilman Steve Karl, who opposed Emert's motion, said the upgrades could not wait any longer.

"While I respect the idea of pausing, I don't think technology can pause," Karl said. "We have kids at the schools who need to access all the apparatus they have. In today's world, you just can't push the pause button on technology. This is something that's needed."

Williams, who seconded Emert's motion, said he didn't think enough vendors had weighed in.

"No one is suggesting we hit the pause button. What we're suggesting is we approach this more intelligently. (This is) basically half a million dollars of taxpayers' money."

The vote in favor of the project passed 9-2.

John Engel was the only councilman absent at Wednesday's meeting.

Councilman Penny Young thanked the Board of Education for providing an "unbelievable amount of information" about the operations of the schools. Young said, however, the town and the board should work together to find cost reductions before next year's budget cycle.

"We got an extraordinary burden on our taxpayers and we have to all be willing to think outside the box and do things, perhaps in different ways," Young said.

Departments that saw operating budget increases include the Department of Public Works, which is getting a $568,799 increase; the Recreation Department, which is looking at a nearly $50,000 increase; and the library, which is getting $2.03 million from the town next year, which is a 5 percent increase.

Health and Human Services will see the biggest decrease -- 18.2 percent to a total of $690,554.

Another previously contentious item on the budget was the town's contribution to the Outback Teen Center. Although the Human Services Department requested $17,500 for the Outback, the teen center will get $20,000, as much as it received for the current year.

First Selectman Robert Mallozzi, who was watching the vote from the audience, thanked the Town Council for the many meetings and long hours they spent along with other town bodies and departments working on the budget.

"Unanimously, on the Board of Finance, on the Board of Selectmen, the relationship with this current town council in this budget process was as genuinely helpful (and) cooperative that we've ever seen," Mallozzi said. "The town was wonderful and the goal of getting to the number was always at the forefront."

noliveira@bcnnew.com, 203-330-6582, @olivnelson