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The new year brings with it preparation for the next fiscal year's budget, the start of which is still six months away. Nevertheless, the process has begun and a conversation with First Selectman Fillmore McPherson shows that some expenditures for the 2014-2015 fiscal year are known, and some are not.
Once again this year, the first selectman's office has issued instructions to commissions and department heads to divide their proposed budgets in two.
McPherson said, "First, we expect to see proposed budgets with no increases, basically budgets that are a replay of this year. The only increases would be in areas of known rate increases, such as postage or electricity. Any new programs or additions are to be requested on a separate form. Informally we call it the wish list."
He added, "After much hand-wringing by the boards of Selectmen and Finance, we may include something from the wish list, or we may not. Basically, each budget starts at a zero increase and then we consider new programs. These are often a number of small things that departments wish they had and that they believe will contribute to making Madison an even nicer place to be."
There are some areas for which McPherson knows he will recommend increases. The first is in the capital reserve funds. The present budget includes increases in this area.
"I will attempt again to boost our capital reserves, to bring them a step closer to where they were before the recession hit. Our reserves are one of the factors that allow the town to operate as well as it does."
Specifically, McPherson said he will recommend a boost of $250,000 to the town's communications reserve.
"I have mentioned this publicly before. We have a need for improved communications. We will need to replace the communications console in the dispatch center at the Police Department and we will need to investigate some microwave technology. I know $250,000 is a larger amount, but that's what it takes."
As the boards of Selectmen and Finance begin to consider the 2014-2015 fiscal year budget, they have set a budget workshop schedule. The meetings are open to the public, although public comment could be limited.
The early budget workshop sessions, which all take place at the Town Campus, are listed below.
Thursday, Jan. 16 from 12:30 to 6 p.m.-Presentations by town departments.
Saturday, Jan. 18 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.-Presentations by commissions, organizations, others.
Tuesday, Jan. 21 starting at 8 a.m.-Board of Selectmen review of town budget.
Thursday, Jan. 23 starting at 8 a.m.-Board of Selectmen review of town budget.
Tuesday, Jan. 28 starting at 2 p.m.-Board of Selectmen review of town budget, if necessary.
The Board of Education builds its own budget. It will submit its recommended budget to the selectmen and finance board Tuesday, Feb. 4 and make a presentation to the two boards Wednesday, Feb. 5.
The three boards-Selectmen, Finance, and Education-continue to work their way through the budget process with additional meetings and public hearings until the referendum vote in mid-May.