Shelton budget scrutiny begins by A&T, aldermen

The Board of Apportionment and Taxation (A&T) continues to meet with city department heads and representatives as it scrutinizes Mayor Mark Lauretti’s proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year.

The workshop sessions allow both A&T and Board of Aldermen members to ask questions about proposed department and commission funding requests.

The sessions are preparing A&T members for meetings in mid-April when they will debate what adjustments might be made to the mayor’s plan.

The Board of A&T, which is comprised of three elected Republicans and three elected Democrats, is scheduled to vote on the budget on April 21. In the recent past, it has generally made minimal changes to the mayor’s proposal.

Public hearing to be held

Once A&T acts on the budget, the Board of Aldermen will hold a public hearing, possibly make changes, and then vote on the budget as well.

Lauretti has proposed a $120.69-million budget, with a 1.7% spending increase, that would not increase taxes. He has reduced the Board of Education (BOE)’s requested increase by more than half, giving it $1.5 million more rather than the requested $4.2 million more.

Education budget worries

Mark Holden, BOE chairman, said while it’s too early to speculate on what school expenses might have to be cut, “special education is the only program that is not at risk.”

State law requires the school district to provide certain special education services.

At a recent BOE meeting, Holden urged parents to get involved in the budget process. “I’m going to need help, especially from parents,” he said, noting the role played by the community in successfully pushing for full-day kindergarten funds in last year’s budget.

Small shortfall in mayor's proposal

During the first A&T workshop, it was revealed that Lauretti’s proposal now is more than $100,000 out of balance, with projected revenues falling short of expenditures.

This is mainly due to a few errors and subsequent changes made in the initial plan, blamed mostly on the rush to finalize the proposed budget in the days before Lauretti unveiled it on March 16.

The biggest change involves a higher lease payment for the propane buses purchased by the city for the school system.

Alderman Jack Finn, the lone Democrat on that board, quizzed city Finance Director Paul Hiller about the budget being “unbalanced.”

“Where will we make up the difference?” Finn asked.

Hiller agreed the budget proposed by Lauretti — a Republican — is now slightly out of balance, and said adjustments can be made by cutting expenditures or increasing the proposed tax rate. He noted that taxes generate “85% of our revenue.”

Part time vs. full time

The Shelton Senior Center budget led to discussion on whether two part-time positions could become full time.

Kathy Ramia, center director, said the Shelton Senior Center Commission is hoping at least one of these positions could become full time. As of now, Ramia is the only full-time employee and she said this raises challenges when she is sick or on vacation.

“It really is a team — everyone pitches in,” she said while complimenting the two part-time workers.

Senior center fees were also talked about. The current annual dues are $4 for Shelton residents, $7 for nearby Valley towns, and $10 for other towns.

Charlotte Madar, A&T chairman, asked whether the fees could be raised slightly. Ramia said she’d prefer any increase be for out-of-towners only, and not impact Shelton residents.

The senior center has a budget of about $316,000. It has more than 3,500 members, with about 2,500 of them from Shelton. “We are a model for a lot of other senior centers,” Ramia said.

Another entity hoping to turn a part-time position into full-time is the Conservation Commission, which would like to see the hours of the conservation agent increased.

Funding fire pensions

The Shelton Fire Department’s pension incentive program, which provides small monthly pension payments to longtime volunteer members, also was discussed.

The department has requested $140,000 for pensions and Lauretti has recommended $110,000, but it appears that from $160,000 to $182,000 may actually be needed.

Fire Chief Fran Jones and Fire Commission Chairman Michael Maglione said the higher amounts are based on recommendations of an actuary.

Firefighters are eligible to receive pension payments up to $375 per month at age 55, based on having volunteered for 25 years. The formula pays $15 a month per year of service, with a maximum of 25 years.

Only incentive that is offered

Jones noted it’s the only incentive program the department has for rank-and-file volunteers (some towns offer property tax credits).

Maglione said the city benefits from having “a very robust fire department,” with 260 active volunteer members, and the pension incentive should be adequately funded.

The city's newly formed Pension Board is expected to look at the issue and offer recommendations.

The overall fire department budget now is about $979,000.