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Thursday, February 22 News

Town's preliminary 2014-15 budget shows 12.4 percent increase

The first look at the town's 2014-15 fiscal year operating budget showed a 12.4 percent increase over the current year's, an increase of $16.4 million for a total of $148.4 million.

The preliminary budget, which also includes the preliminary Board of Education budget, was presented at two joint meetings of the boards of Selectmen and Finance and the Town Council at the New Canaan Nature Center Jan. 13 and 14.

Two of the main drivers of the increase are debt service, estimated at $1.7 million, and pension contribution, $1.6 million. Sixty percent of the total operating budget is expected to go to the Board of Education, Budget Director Jennifer Charneski said.

Besides an overview of the full budget, the meetings featured presentations on the general government, police, library, emergency and medical services, health and human services, public works and other departments.

The offices and departments included in the general government category are the first selectman, town clerk, assessor, finance and human resources, among others. Together, the group is requesting $16.7 million in operating funds, a 15 percent increase over 2013-14. In terms of revenue, it's projecting to collect $8.3 million in 2014-15, a 1.6 percent decrease from the current fiscal year.

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The Department of Public Works is requesting $8.75 million in operating funds, a 0.16 increase over 2013-14. The department is also requesting $1.5 million in capital funds -- a 5.21 percent increase -- to be used toward pavement preservation, new dump and plow trucks, among other projects and equipment.

The Fire Department is requesting $3.48 million in operating funds, a 3.24 percent increase over the current year. The library is asking for $2.7 million, a 2.12 percent increase over 2012-13. There was no increase in 2013-14.

The Police Department is requesting a $5.6 million operating budget that would represent a 2.13 percent increase over the 2013-14 budget as approved by the Town Council in April 2013. The department is seeking to hire two new officers, a full-time one for Saxe Middle School and a full-time patrol officer. There are currently 45 officers in the force, which according to Chief Leon Krolikowski, is not enough.

"Forty-five officers just isn't adequate anymore. We've been at 45 officers for a long time," he said. "We want to serve the community well and we need those people for that."

Krolikowski said the new hires would also help reduce the cost of overtime, which has increased "dramatically" over the years. In 2011-12, overtime pay cost the department $370,619 and in 2012-13, $485,751. With two more officers, he forecasts overtime to cost $304,000 in 2014-15.

Among its capital projects, the Police Department is seeking to upgrade its emergency dispatch equipment for an estimated $555,000 and to buy a $20,000 license plate reader.

According to the presentations, 2013 was a busy year for the town. Some of the Department of Public Works' accomplishments include the beginning of the Town Hall renovations and the repaving or resurfacing of 23 roads, according to Tiger Mann, the department's assistant director. One of the goals for 2014-15, Mann said, is to begin work on the Locust Avenue parking lot.

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Some of the general government's accomplishments of the current fiscal year include reducing outstanding delinquent taxes from $1.4 million to $900,000 and the development of a new capital budgeting process, which is underway. The goals for the next fiscal year, according to Charneski, include adopting the 2014 Plan of Conservation and Development by the beginning of the last quarter and cleaning up the Chart of Accounts "to better organize, control and report the financial status to the boards."

The numbers could face changes as other town meetings and public hearings are scheduled to be held in the coming weeks. A final budget will be approved in April.

noliveira@bcnnew.com, 203-330-6582, @olivnelson

Nelson Oliveira|Education/general assignment reporter