Ridgefield First Selectman Rudy Marconi said the proposed 2013-14 municipal budget that will go to referendum next week is “extremely modest” since it only increases town government spending by 0.68 percent and the school district by 1.97 percent.
“With this proposed increase, the boost in the mill rate would be less than 1 percent per year on average for the last six years,” he said Monday night to about 100 people who turned out at the Ridgefield Playhouse for the annual town meeting.
The proposed $128,378,247 budget will go to referendum May 14 from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. at Yanity Gym. The plan includes $82,871,238 for education and $45,506,999 for town government operations.
Superintendent of Schools Deborah Low said the schools are adding some additional unarmed security personnel to ensure safety, as well an additional 2.72 certified staff members.
However, resident Ed Tyrrell said the proposed education package “makes no sense” since it is three times higher than the proposed increase for town government services.
“The population of the town is increasing and the population of the schools is decreasing,” he added.
“The taxpayers are not benefiting from some of those reductions in the schools budget” said resident Dave Scott, who indicated that he opposes the proposed education plan but supports the town government package.
Tyrrell said school district spending is benefiting “the education establishment through the creation of jobs.”
Low said, for example, the district has yielded $534,221 in savings from a new bus contract and has pared health costs by 2.01 percent below last year’s figure.
“I understand that there is $500,000 [for the security personnel] that causes that 1.97 percent to happen,” Marconi said in an interview. “But we have reduced too many staff members over the last couple of years.”
“We need to maintain the quality of our schools and the quality of our roads,” he added. “It is not easy during these tough economic times to reduce everything.”
“I will not make a prediction,” Marconi said regarding the results of the referendum. “However, it has been very quiet during this budget season.”
He said the town has approved the municipal budget in the first vote in each of the last three years.
Board of Finance Chairman David Ulmer said the town has a robust fiscal profile, noting that during the recession the median household income only declined from $137,000 to $132,000 between 2008 and 2011 and there have only been two mortgage foreclosures in town during the current calendar year.
Marconi said the town has had a AAA bond rating, the highest possible, for nearly 15 years. He said the fund balance is about 8.7 percent, which has increased in recent years in comparison to some other towns in Fairfield County.
“What really matters most is that the budgets are being approved in the first referendum,” he said “That sends a signal that people are happy about how the town spends its money.”
In addition to the questions on the education and town government services packages, there will be six smaller appropriations on the ballot:
- Question 3: Making appropriations for $1,847,670 in planning, design, acquisition and construction of various town road and infrastructure improvements.
- Question 4: Appropriating $155,000 for planning, design, acquisition and construction of the Bennett Farm road drain construction and $105,000 in façade repair at Ridgefield High School.
- Question 5: $150,000 for planning, design, acquisition and construction of sidewalk improvements.
- Question 6: $125,000 for asbestos abatement at Scotland Elementary School and $205,000 for construction of auditorium seating at East Ridge Middle School.
- Question 7: $310,000 for planning and construction of playground Phase II.
- Question 8: $1,140,094 for various public improvements.