As published in the Record Journal on Thursday April 4, 2013
By Andrew Ragali
WALLINGFORD – Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. trimmed just more than $1.5 million from general government budget requests for fiscal year 2013-14 — the lowest amount he has cut in the last four years.
Last week, Dickinson proposed a $147.94 million budget for 2013-14, which represents a 1.94 percent, or $2.81 million, increase over the current budget. Government departments other than education and utilities requested $57,918,538, which Dickinson cut to $56,407,204. Even with that reduction, the figure is an $856,571, or 1.54 percent, increase over the current year.
The reduction is the lowest since 2009, when Dickinson reduced general government requests in his budget proposal by $953,900. Dickinson, a Republican, said “two things” played a large role in the lessened reductions.
“Certainly departments aren’t requesting as much,” Dickinson said, and “our ability to add so many items back in through the use of reserves” offset some reductions. Since Dickinson became mayor in 1984, he said, reserve funding has regularly been used to supplement the budget.
In Dickinson’s latest proposed budget, he recommended that certain capital expenditures that were reduced be funded using the fiscal year 2012-13 operating surplus. He also suggested that money distributed by the Connecticut Resources Recovery Authority be used to fund a shift command vehicle and generator requested for the Fire Department, along with another generator for Public Works.
Comptroller James Bowes said that there is less than $200,000 left in the CRRA fund. The town received a payment of $7.2 million from
CRRA in 2009, a surplus distribution for its participation in a long-term trash disposal agreement. With about $4.3 million in reserve funding earmarked for the current budget, the town still has a healthy balance of $12 million in reserve cash, Bowes said, a balance he’d like to maintain in order to receive a solid credit rating.
There is concern from town councilors over the mayor’s dependency on reserve cash when forming a budget.
“We’ve been burning up these savings,” said Town Councilor Jason Zandri, a Democrat and a candidate in the upcoming mayoral race. “We’re going to hit a situation there where all these monies will be gone.”
Without extensive reserves, Zandri said, the town will have to raise taxes or borrow money to balance the budget.
Town Councilor Nicholas Economopoulos, a Democrat, characterized Dickinson’s proposed budget as “same old, same old.”
“To me, the budget is a facade,” he said. “The mayor over budgets every year ... it’s like an open checkbook.”
Town Councilor Craig Fishbein, a Republican, said “Reserve funding is always a concern,” but added, “It seems every year we’re replenishing that” so that reserve cash “stays somewhat steady.”
Fishbein was happy with the amount of the tax increase, which will cost the average residential property owner only an extra $46 a year, although he’s still “not satisfied.” He said he’d like to see more things trimmed from the budget.
The Town Council makes the final call on the budget.
The small tax increase stands out to Democratic Town Councilor John Sullivan, but “while this all sounds great, I’m concerned about the 2014-15 budget,” he said.
Satisfied with the budget is Republican Town Councilor John LeTourneau, who said he didn’t see anything “earthshattering.”
“I don’t foresee any big issues with departments,” he said.
Vincent Cervoni, Republican vice chairman of the Town Council, said he was impressed with the mayor’s budget. Cervoni said “The use of reserve funds is a good way to use those funds and minimize the tax increase that must take place.”
Dickinson cut the current year’s general government budget by $1.6 million, following a nearly $6 million reduction in 2011-12 and $1.8 million cut in 2010-11.