East Lyme Board of Selectmen unanimously approves budget

East Lyme — The Board of Selectmen on Wednesday unanimously approved a budget for 2019-20 with minor changes to the bottom line from the spending plan proposed last month by First Selectman Mark Nickerson, he said Thursday.

Proposed at $25.1 million, the budget, which includes general government, debt service and capital spending, represents a 2.46 percent increase over the current fiscal year's budget. Together with the Board of Education's budget of $49.5 million, a 3.18 percent increase, the total budget for 2019-20 is $74.6 million, or 3.15 percent more than the current spending plan.

Nickerson next will present the Board of Finance with the budget proposal at its meeting at 7 p.m. Wednesday, March 13, at Town Hall.

As part of that budget, Nickerson has included $71,581 for an additional police officer, $21,926 for an additional dispatcher and $63,000 in additional funding for library expansion plans.

Nearly $200,000 has been budgeted for the hiring of two overnight firefighters. That spending, however, would be offset by revenues from the East Lyme Ambulance Association, which has agreed to pay the salaries of the two positions combined over a three-year period potentially starting July 1. Together, the two salaries are estimated to cost around $141,000, with an additional $59,000 estimated for their benefits. Nickerson could not confirm Thursday, however, whether those positions would definitively be included in next year's budget, stating that he and town officials were still in legal negotiations with the ambulance association.

An additional $229,000 in debt payments also has been included in the budget. That increase is due in part to the $38 million elementary school renovation project, which the town began bonding for this fiscal year. An additional $108,000 for health insurance and retirement costs also have been included.

Approximately $840,000 has been proposed in the capital improvement plan — a $75,000 increase over this year's plan. Included in that is proposed funding for public works trucks, technology upgrades, firehoses and a thermal imaging camera, among other requests.

While the town's decision to pass this fiscal year's budget with a zero percent increase was "fiscally responsible," Nickerson said it has also put strain on town departments. He said proposing that “bare bones” budget was a “one-off” event and that this year’s spending requests were more realistic for a town such as East Lyme.

Speaking to that in February, Nickerson had said, "Last year I didn't allow any conversation about what the town should spend and where. But this year we can have those conversations. We can decide where to spend money."

The finance board is slated to begin budget deliberations on March 19. The schedule of meetings is available on the town's website, eltownhall.com.

A public hearing on the budget will be held April 24. A townwide referendum on the budget will be held by mid-May.

m.biekert@theday.com

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