Weston first selectman proposes 2.65% town budget increase

First Selectman Chris Spaulding is proposing a $13,103,891 operating budget for the town of Weston, a 2.64% increase over the current year.

The proposed budget is $337,026 more than the current fiscal year budget.

The mill, or tax, rate is expected to increase .84 points, a 2.91% increase. The mill rate in the proposed budget is 29.75, up from 28.91 this fiscal year.

The increase in the mill rate is due to both the school budget and the town budget.

According to the Connecticut Office of Policy and Management, a mill is equal to $1 of tax for each $1,000 of assessment.

To calculate property tax, one would multiply the assessment of the property by the mill rate and divide by 1,000.

Based on the new mill rate, the owner of a property with an assessed value of $1 million located in Weston would pay $29,750 in property taxes. The same property under the current mill rate would pay $28,910 in property taxes.

Budget drivers

Spaulding said the budget was created to “get close to the bone” without cutting into it. Creating a budget with a 1.5% increase, for example, would “cut into the bone” and see the elimination of amenities and jobs, he said.

According to Spaulding, the largest budget driver is contractually guaranteed salary increases that account for an additional $157,530 across all departments.

The registrars of voters budget increased 26.2%, or $14,574, because of anticipated increased activity at the polls this year.

With the upcoming gubernatorial primaries, there will be a need for twice as many polling days. The registrars budget should decrease in the next budget cycle.

The police services budget increased $99,976, or 5%. This increase is due to increases in equipment purchases, new computer servers and contractual services, and taser services.

Additionally, there is a shift of police departmental cellular expenses from the town’s IT budget to the police budget.

The middle school pool budget increases 18.2%, or $15,962. This is due to a scheduled washing, painting and filling of the pool, which is performed every few years. According to Parks and Recreation Director Dave Ungar, the pool will be closed in the month of August because of this maintenance work.

After balancing expenditures and revenues, the solid waste disposal budget, which deals with operating the transfer station, will increase $26,570, up 32.2% from the current fiscal year.

According to Spaulding, the increase is due to two major factors, including a “truing up” of budgeted revenues.

In previous years, the town budgeted payments from town custodial and parks staff who are authorized to dispose of local government bulky waste at the transfer station. Those payments were never made, but continued to be budgeted as anticipated revenues until now.

The second factor is a “notable wage increase” for a full-time employee at the transfer station.

An additional $14,240, or 34.1%, has been allocated to the tree warden for tree removal in town.

There is a $40,000 increase in the public works budget to account for more paving and “keeping the roads relatively pothole-free,” according to Spaulding.

The proposed budget does decrease funding to some areas, including youth services.

The youth services budget would fall by 60.2%. The director’s hours would decrease from 30 hours to 19 hours per week, amounting to a salary savings of $23,284.

The position is currently vacant, so the town would not be cutting the hours of a current employee. The town will be hiring to fill the position in the coming months.

Capital budget

The combined town and school capital budget is $1,939,023, up significantly from last year’s $606,687 capital budget.

The replacement of the turf field and goal posts at Weston High School is scheduled to cost $575,000. However, the total cost is offset by $559,444 from the turf replacement funds.

Other projects will be offset by $279,332 by the capital reserve fund. After the offsets, the capital budget faces an increase of $1,110,247 in new money, up $493,560, or 81.35%, from the current fiscal year.

Spaulding said the capital budget needs to be increased because many capital expenditures have been kicked down the road, to the point of necessity now.

Capital items of note include $90,000 to fund the first of two installments for a replacement dump truck, $33,000 to fund the first of three installments for a replacement to the transfer station vehicle scale, and $245,000 to perform a complete road reconstruction of Michael’s Way.

Additionally, the town is asking for $65,000 to seal cracks in tennis courts and the high school track. Ungar said if this isn’t done, the track may be unusable in the very near future.

Ungar added that the track will likely need to be replaced approximately five years down the road.

Another capital item of note is $33,000 to fund the first of three installments for the replacement of a 1970s-model road grader.

Public Works Director Joe Lametta said the town could likely purchase a used grader for approximately $30,000. Spaulding and Town Administrator Jonathan Luiz said they would look into that instead of purchasing a new one.

Board of Education capital projects include $225,785 for a new phone system, $300,000 to repair knee walls at the intermediate school, and $35,000 to refinish the gym floor at the high school.

Debt service

The combined town and school debt service is $6,078,213, a decrease of $158,625 from the current fiscal year.

The selectmen need to vote to send the budget to the Board of Finance. The finance board will review the proposed town budget on Monday, March 5, at 7:30 p.m. in the Town Hall Meeting Room.

The finance board will hold a public hearing in the middle school library on Tuesday, March 27, at 8 p.m.

The Annual Town Budget Meeting will take place on Wednesday, April 18, in the high school auditorium at 8 p.m.

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