Proposed Preston town budget up 14.5 percent with big boost in fire department staff

Preston — The Board of Finance will have its first discussion Wednesday on the proposed nearly $4 million town government budget that would call for a 14.5 percent spending increase, mainly to boost both fire and police coverage for the town, First Selectman Robert Congdon said.

The proposed budget of $3,997,182 represents a spending increase of $508,910, or 14.5 percent, which Congdon said would be steep but concentrated in a few main areas.

The budget includes a request by town fire officials to nearly double this year’s budget by adding one full-time paid firefighter and about 10,000 to 11,000 hours of per diem paid time to cover the town 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The request would add $263,379 to the budget for wages — a 97 percent increase — with $201,000 of that for the added per diem hours, Congdon said.

Congdon also placed two resident state troopers in the proposed budget, an increase of $25,575 over this year’s police budget. Town officials and residents have debated the police coverage issue for the past two years.

Residents at past town meetings mostly have supported having two state troopers, but the Board of Finance has reduced the number to one resident trooper. Last year, the budget called for one trooper for a full year and a second trooper for most of the year, but the town ended up with two full-year troopers when one trooper at a lower pay step was assigned to Preston.

Town officials again are considering contracting with either Ledyard or Norwich for police coverage but that would not be for the 2019-20 fiscal year.

The town Public Works Department also shows a large proposed spending increase at $38,060, nearly 13 percent over this year. The budget includes adding one day a month to the transfer station hours and shifting one employee who had shared time between Public Works and Recreation to full time in Public Works, Congdon said. The transfer station budget also shows a spending increase of $12,150 to reflect the new cost of $35 per ton to get rid of recycled materials.

“We used to get paid $5 per ton. Now it’s costing us $30 a ton,” Congdon said.

c.bessette@theday.com

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