Mallozzi framing new budget
As First Selectman Rob Mallozzi prepares his town budget, $1 million in additional wages for teachers and other labor costs such as health care are putting a squeeze on town tax dollars.
With more than $90 million in possible capital projects identified, Mallozzi said he is looking to maintain a ceiling on property taxes for residents of about 1 percent of total assessed value. Relative to other area towns such as Westport and Fairfield, Mallozzi said New Canaan’s ability to maintain town services without major tax growth is a major selling point for residents.
The first selectman compiles his preliminary budget each year to be presented in January.
“Darien is about the same as us while other towns like Westport and Norwalk are not,” Mallozzi said. “It’s why we’re growing at a good clip here and our tax rates seem in line with what people are willing to pay and we compare pretty favorably.”
In terms of competing capital needs, Mallozzi said conversations will begin next month on how to plot out which projects might be put on a longer timeline, and some of the town’s bigger hypothetical spending projects could be delayed.
A likely focus could be a long-discussed tiered parking garage at the Locust Avenue lot, a project estimated to cost upward of $5 million, which Mallozzi said needs to be a “cohesive project.” Questions still remain about traffic flow and design.
The town also faces needed investments of millions in other town properties, including $5 million to $8 million to renovate and modernize Waveny House, and potentially $3 million to upgrade the New Canaan Playhouse.
“I don’t want to presuppose the outcome of planning for any project but my guess is that for a variety of reasons every major capital project will be under review,” Mallozzi said.
Mallozzi said the town is hopeful it can create a solution to a long-standing issue at the New Canaan Waste Water Facility and perhaps continue to stall a potential project to meet a Department of Energy and Environmental Protection mandate of reducing zinc and phosphorus content of discharges from the town’s wastewater treatment plant.
The upgrade project could cost $18 million, according to officials, but last week the town hired AECOM Technical Services Inc. on a contract of up to $20,000 for consulting services to reduce levels of the two substances.
“Once we’re told to do it we’ll have to and will not be something we will have any choice over but we’ve been working eight years to find a way to satisfy the federal requirements that doesn’t involve spending millions,” Mallozzi said.
The New Canaan Playhouse Committee is developing request for proposals to overhaul the building, which dates to 1923, and seeking a private investor to partner with, said Steven Karl, who heads up the committee. Karl is vice chairman of the Town Council.
While many residents consider a movie theater important to the downtown, other capital projects for schools and roads probably take precedence for tax dollars, Karl said. The Playhouse needs between $2 million and $3 million to address issues with the sprinkler system, exterior brick structure, Americans with Disabilities Act issues and other needs.
“From a capital standpoint we’re working to avoid a major spend on our town and do what we’ve been doing which is keep it as safe as possible for people to go see the movies,” Karl said.
Karl said town pension obligations remains an unaddressed issue, with officials worrying if the town can maintain its retirement benefit obligations to town employees.
Many town officials were surprised by the arbitration award for teachers granting a 10.2-percent raise over three years, though Karl said the award included other changes, including allowing the town to switch teachers from PPO to high deductible
“We may be able to afford it right now but it is an unsustainable trajectory these liabilities put us on and at some point something has to give,” Karl said. “Obviously nobody is happy to increase the budget but you have to look at the results of our school system being one of the highest-ranked systems and the families sending their kids to school are very happy with the product they are receiving. With that level of results you have to pay for it.”