East Lyme Board of Finance cuts proposed budget

East Lyme — The Board of Finance cut the proposed 2017-18 education, general-government and capital budgets after lengthy deliberations Monday.

Following the cuts, East Lyme's overall proposed budget stands at $70.8 million — a 2.29 percent increase over this year's budget.

During Monday's meeting, board members offered suggestions on how much to cut. The board cut $225,000 from the proposed $46.79 million Board of Education's budget and cut $132,000 from the proposed $923,646 capital budget that the selectmen forwarded to the finance board.

The board also voted to take $100,000 off the proposed $18.2 million general-government budget and to cut the proposed $10,276 increase for the Niantic Fire Department and the proposed $10,900 increase for the Flanders Fire Department. The board restored $1,000 to the town assessor's budget.

The first selectman and school superintendent, with administrators and the Board of Education, are expected to review what specific items should be cut from the town and the Board of Education's spending plans, respectively.

"Our challenge to approve a fiscally responsible budget this year is really greater than any I've ever worked, primarily because of the steep reduction in state aid," Board of Finance Chairman Camille Alberti said.

East Lyme is facing cuts to state aid under the governor's proposed budget, including a proposed $5.1 million cut to its Education Cost Sharing grant. But board members were uncertain where the state budget ultimately would end up.

The board planned to discuss an update on state aid during its meeting next Wednesday and finalize budget deliberations at a special meeting on April 17. A public hearing on the budget has been scheduled for 7 p.m. April 24 at the high school. A town budget meeting and referendum will be held in May.

Fire departments

Board members Lisa Picarazzi, Camille Alberti and Peter DeRosa supported cuts to the fire departments' requested increases, while Beth Hogan and Bill Weber opposed.

Picarazzi made the recommendation in view of a fire services study that she said board members had been requesting but did not yet receive.

"It’s unfortunate that we don’t have it now, but I know we’re going to realize savings from that," she said, adding that the study would recommend how to optimize resources.

Weber said the study may say that to make the fire departments more efficient in the long term, there may be some short-term increased costs.

Finance Director Anna Johnson, pointing to the Niantic Fire Department's budget, said wages for firefighters were $240,115 for this year, while $244,941 is needed for next year. The board's reduction would mean a shortfall in the wage account, she said.

Alberti said the town has contingency funds. If no changes are proposed after reviewing the study, the fire department can request an appropriation of funds to satisfy obligatory expenses. But she said, for instance, if the study suggests the fire departments could eliminate two positions, and town officials moved forward with the suggestion, then the town would have plenty of money to pay for the contractual increases.

First Selectman Mark Nickerson said the study — which is looking at capital, personnel and operational needs — will be done soon. He said he has read through sections of draft versions of the study with the company, but the study is changing as the company gets more information and has not yet been received at Town Hall. He said "the study became much more complex" than the company originally anticipated, and the company also lost some personnel and had to start over.

He said that if the fire departments were to be consolidated, it would take place over several years and the town would discuss hiring a paid fire chief, an additional cost. He would expect savings in capital, rather than personnel, since more firefighters may need to be added over time.

k.drelich@theday.com

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