Town Council Unanimously Approves $151 Million Town Budget

After months of intense negotiations, the 2018-2019 New Canaan town budget is finally a done deal.

The New Canaan Town Council on Thursday unanimously approved a total town operating budget of $150,939,170, an increase of 1.89 percent, or $2,794,676 compared with the current budget of $148,144,503.

This includes a town budget of $39,698,537, representing an increase of 1.33 percent or $522,184, and Board of Education budget of $89,763,487, representing an increase of 2.45 percent or $2,145,082, plus capital expenditures and debt service.

The total amount to be collected via taxation is $139,395,729, which represents an increase of 2.08 percent compared with the current collection figure of $136,611,378. This means taxpayers are in effect facing a 2.08% percent budget hike in the coming fiscal year.

Although there had been some concern among school parents and the school administration that the Town Council might opt to further cut the Board of Education budget, it did not happen; Thursday’s vote went quickly and smoothly with little discussion.

In January, the Board of Education approved a $90.7 million budget request representing a 3.5 percent increase—most of which was driven by an increase in health insurance costs and negotiated wage increases for staff.

But because town finance officials had set a “strong guideline” of a 2 percent maximum increase for municipal departments, the school board found itself—as is the case almost every year—facing intense pressure to reduce its budget request.

It did so last month, shaving about $500,000 from its budget through anticipated retirement of experienced employees (who will be replaced with less expensive employees), cutting equipment purchases, deferring maintenance projects and reducing software and printing costs, among other reductions.

In addition, the school board cut another $400,000 from its capital budget this past week when it determined that utilities provider Eversource may include West School in its plan to bring natural gas to New Canaan, thus eliminating the need to replace an oil tank at the school. The elimination of the oil tank replacement, in turn, eliminated the need to renovate a parking lot.

As a result of these adjustments, the school board’s capital budget was reduced to $1,037,178.

Spending on the public schools accounts for about 69 percent of the total municipal budget.

Following the budget vote, Town Council member Steve Karl thanked the school administration and the various department heads who played a role in developing the budget.

“This is a long process, and every time we do this, I always say, unless you came from another planet or out from under a rock, this wasn’t a meeting where we just raised our hands and voted for $150 million,” Karl said. “There was months and months of meetings, lots of questions, months of prep, background, and every year we get a little better in terms of the information we get from the Board of Ed, and I want to thank you guys for the work you do—and I want to thank all the other town departments that aren’t here.”

Karl noted that it was Todd Lavieri’s first budget cycle as chairman of the Board of Finance, “and I thought the Board of Finance did a very thorough job this time—and Todd deserves a lot of credit, because it was his first time. Not that he hasn’t been on the Board of Finance for a number of years—but he led a very clean operation. So, well done.”

Karl also thanked First Selectman Kevin Moynihan, who sat at the table with the Town Council members during the budget vote.

“It’s nice to have you up here at the table… It’s symbolic but its very nice to have you up here,” he said.

“Well, thank you,” Moynihan said. “I’m very happy to see the end of the fourth-month process.”

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