As published in the Record Journal Tuesday April 3, 2012
By Mary Ellen Godin
WALLINGFORD — On Monday Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. proposed a $145.1 million budget for the 2012-13 fiscal year that reflects a 2.59-percent increase over current year spending and reductions in state and federal grants.
The budget, if approved, would mean a tax hike of 0.76 mills or 3 percent over the current budget, bringing the tax rate to 25.98 mills. The owner of a home with an assessed value of $191,000 would pay an increase of $145 annually, according to Dickinson and Finance Director James Bowes.
“The realities of high unemployment, less revenue, new unfunded governmental mandates, unrealistic collective bargaining arbitration decisions and serious budgetary difficulties at state and federal government levels, render local budget decision-making extremely difficult,” Dickinson read in a prepared statement.
Growth in the town’s grand list will generate about $900,000 in additional revenue at the current tax rate, but the town had to contend with a $258,000 reduction in state and federal aid. This left only $642,000 in revenue to pay for $5.2 million in departmental requests. In addition to the tax hike, taking $4 million out of the town’s rainy day fund also helped cover spending.
Department heads asked for a 3.7-percent increase in spending. Dickinson said, had he not shaved $1.6 million off department requests, the budget increase would have been 3.7 percent, instead of 2.59. School spending increased 3.20 percent for a total of $89.6 million in spending. Schools lost $1.3 million when a federal grant was eliminated.
Dickinson said the spending plan effectively balances the need to provide a level of service that residents can afford.
In a bold move to possibly generate more revenue and provide greater accountability, the mayor proposes splitting the Fire Department into two divisions: the Fire Rescue Division and the Emergency Medical Service Transport Division.
The EMS or ambulance service, which now has one ambulance running full time, would add another ambulance during peak hours instead of allowing outside vendors such as Hunter’s, AMR or Nelson Ambulance to pick up the added calls and increased revenue.
Fire Department records show an increasing number of medical response calls in the past three years, a trend that’s expected to continue.
The EMS division would be funded by the adoption of a proposed ambulance enterprise fund ordinance. Revenues will come from user and insurance fees to cover the cost of ambulance transports. The town’s contract with an outside billing company is set to expire. But it would also add a collection agency to help it collect delinquent user fees under the proposal. The goal is to make the EMS division as self sufficient as the town’s water and sewer utilities. The mayor’s budget calls for spending $2 million on the EMS division and $5.6 million on the Fire Rescue Division.
Government spending — which includes some education costs — totals $55.5 million, $889,018 million more than last year or 1.53 percent. Increases included $225,000 for health insurance and $70,000 for the next revaluation.
Dickinson criticized the federal government for grant programs that gave municipalities money last year, to protect teacher jobs, but withheld it this year.
“They should make it for capital improvement,” Dickinson said. “Not do it for one year and not do it for another. The feds are out of touch. They’re raising financial havoc at the local level.”
The town’s Water Division budget includes a rate increase of 3.5 percent to increase revenues and help pay the cost of some major projects at crossings of Interstate 91, engineering services and storage and wage agreements.
The sewer division will also increase its revenues 10.3 percent through a rate increase. The department’s expenses have increased 4.1 percent due to wage increases, a siphon project and equipment replacement.
The budget also allows for funding the assistant town planner position in the Planning Department. There had been some concern that the economic downturn had eliminated the need for two people in the office. But after interviewing acting Town Planner Kacie Castello, Dickinson decided to keep the assistant planner spot, while filling the vacant town planner position. The office handles all Planning & Zoning Commission staff work, regulations and meetings, in addition to Zoning Board of Appeals and zoning enforcement matters.
“I do not believe one person can handle the nature and issues that surround ZBA and planning,” Dickinson said. “We will have times when there is no one there.”
Republican Town Councilor John LeTourneau said that, at first glance, he was satisfied with the mayor’s budget.
“I like what I see but I want to dig deeper,” LeTourneau said. “The EMT and having that extra ambulance available is something the Town Council has discussed.
Democratic Town Councilor Jason Zandri said he’s anxious to see what was cut from the education budget and also wants to take a closer look at the spending plan before commenting.
Sarah Nathan / Record-Journal – Photo courtesy of the Record Journal.
Wallingford Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr., center, answers questions about his 2012-13 budget while Finance Director John Le-Tourneau, left, Council Chairman Robert Parisi, second from right, and Comptroller James Bowes, right, skim through the budget overview in a conference room at Town Hall on Monday.