The proposed town budget for 2013-14 isn’t yet complete, but First Selectman Thomas Herrmann on Feb. 28 forecast a tax increase of less than 1%.
“What we have is a draft of the spending side and a draft of the revenue side,” Mr. Herrmann said to the Board of Finance during a budget review meeting in the Easton Senior Center. “Not all [town department] budgets have been submitted and approved. It’s still a work in progress this year.”
The projected budget for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1, is identified as $41.38 million on a summary sheet provided by the first selectman. That would rise $704,422, or 1.73%, from this fiscal year’s town budget of $40.68 million, according to the sheet.
The projected $41.38 million budget would require an increase in the tax rate from 29.1 to 29.3 mills, according to the summary sheet. A resident with property assessed at $400,000 would pay an extra $80 — from $11,640 to $11,720. Residents can calculate the potential tax bill on other properties by dividing the property assessment by 1,000 and multiplying the resulting figure by 29.3.
Mr. Herrmann said the projected $41.38 million budget for 2013-14 assumes that capital expenditures will remain at $502,200 in the next fiscal year, operating expenses unrelated to wages will remain the same, and general wage increases for union and non-union employees will rise 1.5%. When step increases are included, the total wage increase for employees in unions rises 4.54%, from $3.67 million to $3.84 million, according to the sheet
The Board of Education’s proposed budget was identified as $15.45 million, an increase of 1.34%, and the total town-side budget was identified at $15.3 million, an increase of 3.24%. The Region 9 Board of Education budget was identified at $10.13 million, an increase of 0.19%.
On another major account, annual debt service in 2013-14 was projected at $3.4 million, an increase of 7%.
The projected 2013-14 budget also assumes the same amount of surplus ($145,000) will be used in 2013-14 as was used this year and that the town’s tax collection rate of 98.785 percent will remain the same, Mr. Herrmann said.
Also on the revenue side, state grants are projected to rise 0.75%, from $1.285 million to $1.295 million; reimbursements from the Federal Emergency Management Agency are identified next fiscal year at $168,000; and the sale of a town-owned house at 358 Westport Road is expected to bring in $200,000.
On Thursday night, Board of Finance members mostly discussed town employees’ pension account, the EMS’ proposed budget and the Fire Department’s proposed budget.
Consultants to the town had recommended that the contribution by taxpayers into the pension account next fiscal year be from $532,000 to $777,000, said Alan Goldbecker, chairman of the Pension and Employee Benefits Commission. Mr. Goldbecker said his request was $620,000, which is an increase of $30,000 from this fiscal year.
“We have historically asked for the maximum, but our returns so far this year, I think, are fairly good,” he said.
Mr. Goldbecker said the pension account was 83.8%, funded as of the last evaluation date on July 1, which is about $2.5 million short of being fully funded.
Board of Finance Chairman Fred Knopf questioned why Mr. Goldbecker wasn’t asking for the full amount of $777,000, which would be an increase of $187,000 instead of an increase of $30,000.
Mr. Goldbecker said the impact on taxpayers would be greater, and Mr. Herrmann said the evaluation of 83.8% funded from July 1 was low compared to today. Mr. Goldbecker said returns so far this year had been 11%, which was above the traditional estimate of 7%.
“I’m comfortable with it,” Mr. Goldbecker said of the extra $30,000 next fiscal year. “I try to be reasonable.”
Mr. Herrmann added that the pension account was taking in $930,000 a year, which includes employee contributions, and paying out $450,000 a year. “If the contribution rate was much closer to the outflow rate, there might be greater sensitivity,” he said.
Easton EMS had a request for $187,000 to replace one of its two ambulances. The ambulance to be replaced was bought in 2001, has 43,000 miles on it and has incurred a total of $16,700 in repairs from 2009 until Feb. 27.
Mr. Knopf questioned whether EMS had thought about using its other ambulance, a 2010 model that has 16,000 miles, much more frequently than the one from 2001 instead of using the ambulances on alternating days.
“I think we need to have really good justification for it,” he said of the potential new ambulance. “It doesn’t appear you’ve thought of using the newer truck all of the time, or most of the time.”
Mr. Herrmann said EMS’ ambulances “wear out more as a function of time than of mileage” and suggested that if one was used six days a week, with the other used one day a week, the ambulances might not wear out due to age instead of use.
The Board of Finance didn’t make a decision on the request for a new ambulance.
Fire Chief Steve Waugh said the number of personnel in his department would remain the same next fiscal year, and Mr. Herrmann said general wage increases were not included in the Fire Department’s proposed budget because a contract for the next fiscal year was not settled. Firefighters are operating under an old contract.
Of the Fire Department’s $97,000 capital request, $70,000 is due to a new fire truck, $11,000 is for new gear, $3,000 is for pagers and radios, $6,000 is for dry hydrants in the north end of town, $2,500 is for air bottles, regulators and masks, and $4,500 is for hoses.
Equipment has to be replaced every 10 years according to national standards, and the Fire Department has identified problems with four dry hydrants, which are ponds that have accumulated a lot of silt, Mr. Waugh said.
In other accounts discussed Thursday night, worker’s compensation insurance is poised to rise 25% next fiscal year, from $387,445 to $484,306, and Mr. Herrmann said that may occur in subsequent years. But he said the town receives “full value for that, more than we pay in total premiums.”
The proposed budget for legal expenses was projected to rise from $120,000 to $150,000 due to upcoming trials, Mr. Herrmann said. “Our current run rate is about $10,000 a month. It is almost exclusively land use,” he said of what legal expenses cover.