August 19, 2018

Essex Selectmen Approve $6.85 Million Town Government Budget for 2012-2013

ESSEX— The board of selectmen has approved a proposed $6.85 million town government budget for 2012-2013 that represents a $222,285, or 3.35 percent, increase over current spending.

The board approved the $6,854,304 budget on a unanimous vote at a March 21 meeting. First Selectman Norman Needleman presented the spending plan to the board of finance the following evening. The budget plan that funds town government is combined with the town’s share of the Region 4 education budget and the budget for Essex Elementary School for a total 2012-2013 spending package that will be presented to the voters for approval in May.

Under the direction of Needleman, a Democrat elected to the top job last year after serving previously on the board of selectmen, town hall staff prepared a detailed four-page “Citizens Guide to the Essex Town Budget” that explains the budget preparation process and includes various town financial data. Preparation of the hand-out guide follows a contentious budget battle last year. After voters at the annual budget meeting rejected a proposed budget for the first time in decades, a reduced budget was approved on a 532-438 vote in a June 7 2011 referendum.

The budget includes a two percent wage/salary increase for all non-union town employees and elected officials, with the exception of the board of selectmen. Needleman, Democratic Selectwoman Stacia Libby and Republican Selectman Joel Marzi are not taking a pay increase for 2012-2013, leaving the salary for first selectman at $76,271, and the annual stipend for selectmen at $4,148.

The budget includes $174,681 for parks and recreation, an increase of $16,376, $270,664 for operation of the solid waste transfer station, $281,250 for the volunteer fire department, and $365,000 for the libraries in Essex and Ivoryton.

The budget establishes new totals, and operations plans, for the health department and police, two items that were debated in 2001. A $113,105 appropriation for the health department, up by $6,615, includes funding of $60,000 for a a combined health director and sanitarian. Needleman said Ivoryton resident Lisa Fasulo, who began working as a part-time health dirtector earlier this year, is expected to pass state exams for certification as a sanitarian, establishing a full-time health director/sanitarian position.

The budget appropriation for town police is $315,806, a decrease from the $343,000 that will be spent in the current fiscal year. This amount is supplemented by $108,000 for a single resident state trooper. Needleman said his plan is to fill one open police position by this summer, setting a local force at three-full-time officers, He would also fund two part-time police positions that would be used for up to two shifts per week and special events. Local officers would be supervised by the resident state trooper.
The budget also increases capital sinking funds for the fire department, parks and recreation, municipal property maintenance, and road repairs for a total proposed capital sinking fund appropriation of $388,117, an increase of $126,667 from the current amount. Needleman said all of the sinking funds have been underfunded since the economic recession began in 2008. The fire department capital sinking fund would be $125,000, up by $50,000, with $30,000 for parks and recreation, $75,000 for road repairs, and $25,000 for municipal property maintenance.

In voting for the budget, Marzi said he was not pleased with the proposed 3.35 percent spending increase, but was ready to send the spending plan to the board of finance and townspeople for further discussion.

The town is already facing a $325,000 increase in its share of the Region 4 education budget because of more students from Essex attending Valley Regional High School and John Winthrop Middle School. A spending increase of about 1.7 percent is also expected for the elementary school budget, which goes to the voters as part of the town budget. The Region 4 education budget is sent to the voters of Chester, Deep River and Essex in a separate referendum that is set for May. 8.

Needleman said he is hoping to limit any tax increase needed to fund the total spending appropriation to about one-half mill. The current tax rate is 17.98 mills, or $17.98 in tax for each $1,000 of assessed property value.

Needleman said the board of finance is expected to discuss funding the proposed increase in capital and sinking funds from the town’s undesignated fund balance as a way to limit the expected tax increase. The fund balance currently contains about $2.72 million, or about 13 percent of total operating expenses.

The annual budget hearing is set for Thursday April 19 at 8 p.m. in the auditorium in town hall. Voters would act on the combined town/elementary school spending package at the annual budget meeting on Monday May 14, unless the board of selectmen decides to send the spending package to a referendum, or voters force a referendum by petition.

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