Shelton lays off 14 fulltime city employees

SHELTON — Fourteen full-time employees have been laid off as part of the city’s response to the continuing economic toll of the coronavirus pandemic, according to Mayor Mark Lauretti.

The staff cuts touched parks and recreation, the library system and finance departments, Lauretti said. The city has some 300 full-time employees, with several part-timers who have not worked since the state shutdown in March.

Lauretti said he was unsure about future staff reductions. The high unemployment and uncertainty about when the state will fully reopen have hurt any chance for accurate revenue projections, he said, adding the city must tighten its financial belt in the coming fiscal year.

While the Board of Education, faced with slashing some $2.9 million from its proposed budget, has asked all its unions about accepting a pay freeze or furloughs for the coming fiscal year, Lauretti said he made no such request of the city’s unions.

Lauretti has proposed a budget of $128,182,039, a $610,565 increase from the present year’s budget, which maintains the 22.42 mill rate.

Lauretti’s plan relies on a slightly lower anticipated tax collection rate and reduces the revenue estimate on motor vehicles by $200,000, creating what he called a “significant drop in cash” which will “certainly impact the ability to pay bills for vital services.”

The mayor, who has handled the city’s finance for three decades, said he expects about a 98 percent tax collection rate; other municipalities, he said, are anticipating lower numbers.

“It is imperative that we get the tax bills out … revenues are what drives everything,” he said.

The budget now sits with the Board of Apportionment and Taxation, which remains split along party lines on whether to even hold joint budget workshops with department heads and the Board of Education.

The Democrats left a May 8 meeting before the groups took a vote approving the mayor’s budget as proposed. Since then, the A&T Democrats have sent an open letter to the mayor and Board of Aldermen asking for joint budget workshops; the Shelton Democratic Town Committee has petitioned for such action.

“Given the current financial condition of the city — layoffs and projected income short fall — now is not the time to eliminate a fiscal oversight board and its workshops,” said DTC Chair David Gioiello.

Lauretti said no A&T meeting has been scheduled yet. If A&T takes no action on the mayor’s proposed budget by May 30, Lauretti said it would simply pass to the Board of Aldermen for final adoption.

Gioiello said bypassing the A&T’s oversight by letting the time run out for its vote was bad for Shelton.

“While the Board of Aldermen have the final say on city spending, it is clear by the most recent election that any alderman that questions the mayor will be term-limited,” added Gioiello. “Thus, there are no real checks and balances without an active A&T. When one body or person proposes, reviews and approves all spending, the potential for financial trouble is tremendous.”

Lauretti said he is not obligated to respond to people with no budgetary track record who are “putting out sound-bites to make some people look bad.”

Gioiello said the workshops are the only time the citizens can review and question city spending and projected revenue.

“This is even more true given the mayor’s requested Board of Education budget,” said Gioiello. “When you eliminate the workshops, you avoid any planning and avoid questions that may need to be asked and answered. There is no accountability. The Board of A&T allows for a board of citizens to focus only on finances, thus providing a stronger auditoria and oversite process.”

No departments are seeing spending increases, according to Lauretti, although the hardest hit will be the Board of Education, since its budget is the largest part of the entire spending plan.

The Board of Education had proposed a $75,083,945 budget — an increase of $2,318,945, or 3.19 percent. The school budget request maintains present services with money set aside for a new pre-K teacher and curriculum writing.

The Board of Education must now find some $2.9 million in reductions to bring the budget number to that used during the current fiscal year. Those reductions will include staff cuts, as discussed at one recent Board of Education meeting, but the impact has yet to be determined.