Town Council approves 5% budget increase
Updated 5:14 pm, Wednesday, April 10, 2013
The New Canaan Town Council approved a $132,040,711 budget for fiscal year 2014. After revenue, the town will have to raise $4,331,280 more through taxation than the previous year, or 3.72 percent.
Council member Kit Devereaux abstained from voting on either law enforcement or school-related items, for fear of legal retribution from a town resident.
"There is an individual that has threatened that anyone who votes in favor of police or education will be added to a criminal lawsuit," Devereaux said. "I wish I could vote in favor of those two budgets, but for personal reasons I cannot take that risk and will be abstaining."
Resident Michael Nowacki, who filed a criminal complaint against 25 town officials charging larceny for defrauding the public, alleging malfeasance on the part of both the Board of Education and Police Department, has said he will add any Town Council member who voted in favor of the $77.9 million operating budget for the schools to the complaint.
One contentious item has been the Board of Education's operating budget. Including health-care costs, the BOE operating budget makes up $77,939,705 of the total municipal budget. That amount is 4.58 percent higher than 2012-13. Most of that increase, however, will go to contractual teacher salary increases, the school security initiative, and to make up for a reduction in spending from an excess cost grant fund.
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"The reason I will vote against the budget is the increase in non-instructional expenses," Emert explained, citing administrative growth. "I'm also concerned about budget presentation, particularly use of funds," he said, for items such as the cafeteria and student activities funds, which are self-supporting and do not appear in the budget.
An amendment to reduce the BOE operating budget by the amount it labeled for school security was introduced by Councilman Roger Williams, who said the state is formulating new guidelines and therefore money spent now could be useless if statewide rules are introduced.
Councilman John Emert agreed with Williams, adding that he'd be happy to see the school come back and ask for a special appropriation for the amount if they believe the campus monitors are worth the expense.
"I'm against the amendment," Christine Hussey said. "I think it was made clear that there are many communities that already have programs in place and they are functioning well. Our community wants something in place; they do not want to wait."
The amendment failed, drawing support only from Williams and Emert. Along with Devereaux, Robert Hamill abstained, saying that he could see both sides of the argument. All other members voted in favor of it.
Only one item was removed from the budget. The Board of Finance recommended $20,000 for a license plate reader for the police, which was denied.
The device, which would be mounted on a police car, automatically reads the license plate of all cars that pass, and scans the numbers against a list of plates with outstanding legal or regulatory issues.
The machines also record the exact location and time of the plate. In previous discussions, Town Council members voiced concerns over privacy, since a record of the locations fall under the Freedom of Information Act.
The state Legislature is considering a bill that would force police to delete the data after 14 days. The Town Council may consider approving the money later in the year as a special appropriation, after statewide legislation has been passed.
Councilman Joe Paladino was critical of the charter restrictions against being able to add money to the budget, arguing that it gave too much power to the Board of Finance. In previous meetings, Paladino has bemoaned the elimination of a request for a full-time recreation supervisor.
"I can't imagine that the Board of Finance is 100 percent correct on all their findings. I feel that I'm 85 percent correct, maybe less," he said in a speech at the start of the meeting.
After the budget call, the members of the Town Council celebrated the end of the months-long process with pizza and wine in a room down the hall.
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