On the first night of budget meetings, all three major town bodies congregated in the town hall auditorium Tuesday night to listen to presentations. The town's overall initial budget request comes out to $132.9 for the incoming fiscal year, a 9.2 percent increase from last year's $121.7 budget. However, as meetings continue during the next several weeks, those figures will likely change.

In the past, departments have gone to the Board of Selectmen, Board of Finance and Town Council separately to present their budgets. In order to avoid the redundancy, First Selectman Rob Mallozzi is now having all three town bodies in one room to hear from all the different departments. The first joint meeting took place Tuesday evening when Recreation, Emergency Medical Services, Health & Human Services and Public Works.

"I think this is an excellent venue here with everyone in the same room," Assistant Director of Public Works Tiger Mann said. "Granted we don't get to answer questions but at the same time you get to hear our presentation and in seven days we'll be at the Board of Selectmen, 14 days or so we'll be at the Board of Finance and in a month or so we'll be at the Town Council and you have a nice time to digest all the information that we give you."

Town officials refrained from asking questions in order to allow everyone to get through their presentation. The department heads will meet with all three town bodies individually during upcoming meetings which will be devoted solely to questions and adjustments to the budgets presented Tuesday night.

The Public Works presentation took up nearly half the meeting as Mann described the challenges and goals associated with his department's projected $7.3 million operating budget, up 1.07 percent from last year. The department's overall budget is actually down 2.27 percent. To that effect, Mann explained how Public Works has kept its budget at a very low increase or even a decrease in the past few years.

"Every single one of our budgets has either had a negative overall or at least a zero in our operating," Mann said. "If you look at fiscal year '10, we were at minus 16 percent overall. In fiscal year '09 we were at minus 4 percent. In fiscal year '11 we're at .27 percent or basically zero and we're operating the same in '12 and '13."

The department heads will next meet with each town body separately and Mallozzi says those will be devoted to any questions and issues officials have with the numbers and initiatives. The Board of Selectmen will have those meetings beginning Jan. 17 while the Board of Finance will have those meetings beginning Jan. 31. Mallozzi believes this new format for the meetings was a success and sees a good future for the rest of the budget season.

"I want to call to mind the extra attention that was paid by Town employees. This budget came in two and a half weeks earlier than last year," Mallozzi said. "We totally revised the whole budget process with the help of [Town CFO] Gary [Conrad] and [Budget Director] Jennifer [Charneski] and I think it portends good dialogue for the next three or four months."

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