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Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Budget proposal will be posted online

This story was published in the Record Journal on Tuesday April 3, 2012. The Record Journal already has the budget online and I have a link to it in a prior post. As you can see from the expedited way the newspaper was able to get their hands on a printed copy, scan it in, and post it online inside of six hours that it would take the town no time at all to do the same with the digital copies of the segments of the budget book that they already have. 

By Mary Ellen Godin
Record-Journal staff
(203) 317-2255

WALLINGFORD — After announcing his $145.1 million 2012-2013 budget proposal, Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. announced that the 150page document will be available online.

The decision is a reversal of Dickinson’s earlier opposition to the idea, when he doubted many residents would view the document and questioned whether it might occupy technical staff’s time.

Dickinson said Monday that making the document available on the town’s website was the least of the town’s concerns. Despite his recognition that more people are gaining access to information online, he still feels it is one more burden on the town.

“We’re dealing with another thing that absorbs staff and time,” Dickinson said. “There are still people without the Internet.”

Dickinson did not say when the document would be posted online. The budget proposal was not online Monday evening.

The longtime debate over the use of Internet technology has heated up in recent years as Town Councilors and former employees have made it public that only two computers in Town Hall have Internet access, putting a strain on some employee functions. Town Council members are split on Dickinson’s hard line against technology in Town Hall.

Democratic Town Councilor Jason Zandri was incensed to learn Monday morning that Dickinson would be announcing the budget Monday afternoon. Zandri, who works in Manhattan, had no way to get to the announcement in time.

“Due to this situation, I will not be able to attend the press conference,” Zandri stated in an email to Dickinson’s office.

In a later phone interview, Zandri said putting the budget online would allow him to review the document from his computer. Instead, he has to send someone to pick it up. An online budget proposal could help bring people to the upcoming public hearings and save money in printing costs.

“If this was posted now, people could open it up and start looking it up,” Zandri said. “Here’s an example of technology in the office that’s a cost savings.”

According to officials in the Finance Department, the town spent $1,500 to print 200 copies of last year’s budget. The office provides copies to the Wallingford Public Library and the town clerk’s office for the general public. It also mails about a half-dozen copies to those who can’t get to Town Hall.

Finance Director James Bowes said he still has to send out the printed budgets and make them available to the public. He hasn’t determined how many he will print. But when it comes to allowing technology, if a department can prove a need, Dickinson will approve it.

“It’s absolutely a good thing,” Zandri said when he heard the mayor was going to upload the spending plan. “It gives the appearance of transparency. Now the public can look that up and ask informed questions at the public hearings.”

Wallingford Mayor William Dickinson's 2012-13 budget

As provided by the Record Journal


Wallingford school officials happy with budget proposal

As published in the Record Journal Tuesday April 3, 2012

By Russell Blair
Record-Journal staff
(203) 317-2225

WALLINGFORD — The Board of Education received $614,132 less than what it asked for in Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr.’s proposed 2012-13 budget that was unveiled Monday, but school officials were pleased that the bulk of their requested increase remained intact.

“It’s very good news for us,” School Superintendent Salvatore Menzo said. “While we cannot fund everything, that’s a significant portion of what we had requested. We should be pleased with the percentage that we got.”

After a number of budget workshops, the school board sent Dickinson a proposed budget of $90,188,048, an increase of 3.91 percent, or an additional $3.4 million. Dickinson countered with $89,573,916, a 3.2 percent increase and $2.8 million in additional funds.“Their requested increase was lower than typically requested,” Dickinson said Monday afternoon, adding that the school board usually seeks a 5 percent to 6 percent increase. “We try to look at what the reality is.”

Menzo said staff members were planning for the worst, and were preparing figures on what would need to be cut if the increase came back at 1 percent or 2 percent.

“We were looking at catastrophic loss,” he said.

During Monday night’s meeting of the Operations Committee Menzo shared with board members areas that his staff had identified for reductions to reach Dickinson’s figure. Among the cuts Menzo proposed were reducing one teacher at each high school and cutting a K-12 world language coordinator. A foreign language teacher and an English Language Learners instructor are also proposed to be cut due to declining enrollment in those classes.

To help make up the gap,Menzo also has proposed using $84,000 from the district’s unencumbered fund balance, money left over from the current budget. The district is running a surplus of about $480,000 for the fiscal year that ends on June 30, but school officials have been cautious about using that money to fund recurring expenses. Menzo said Monday he’d like to use about $300,000 from that account to replace the track at Lyman Hall.

Generally, board members were optimistic that the budget could be reduced without a significant impact on student learning.

“It’s an indication that we can get there,” said Republican school board member Chet Miller.

“It’s going to be a lot easier than last year,” said Democrat Jay Cei.

Republican Christine Mansfield said the budget represents both “fiscal conservatism and doing what’s best for the kids.” She said Menzo’s proposed cuts weren’t about frivolous spending.

“This is all muscle, but we’re protecting what we committed to,” she said.

Some board members had reservations about the reduction in staff at the high school, but Menzo stressed that none of the proposals offered Monday night was set in stone. He said he only wanted to begin the discussion about bringing education costs down.

“I’m not saying this is what we’re going to do,” he said.

Though board members were upbeat about the budget for the upcoming fiscal year, the financial forecast for the following years isn’t as bright. There were no wage increases for teachers or administrators in the first year of three-year contracts negotiated last fall, but raises of more than $2.8 million are due in the next two budgets.

“That’s going to come back next year,” Bowes said.

Major items in the school board’s requested increase included $1.2 million to replenish a one-time federal grant received last year, $1.5 million to cover rising costs for insurance and severance pay, and $655,700 to move the district toward the Common Core State Standards, a nationwide initiative that revises curriculum to focus on math and language arts. The school board will continue its conversation about reductions at its Instructional Committee meeting next Monday. Menzo and Board of Education Chairwoman Roxane McKay will discuss the budget and the ramifications of any cuts before the Town Council on April 12.

Mayor pitches $145.1 million budget; Dickinson’s plan would divide firefighting, EMS duties at Fire Department

As published in the Record Journal Tuesday April 3, 2012

By Mary Ellen Godin
Record-Journal staff
(203) 317-2255

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.