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First Selectman Proposes a Town Budget with a 4% Spending Hike

The spending plan includes funds for improved school security and maintenance and facilities upgrades. No mill rate has been set, but taxes would go up 5.24% to pay for the budget proposal.

Editor's Note: Supt. of Schools James Agostine's presentation will be written about in a second budget article.

As many families struggle to make ends meet, First Selectman Steve Vavrek agrees everyone would like to see no increase in their property tax bills. However, if the deteriorating conditions of town buildings, vehicles, equipment and roads are not addressed, Vavrek says it will cost Monroe residents a lot more when things break down.

Infrastructure needs and demand for school resource officers (SROs) following the tragic school shooting in Sandy Hook have factored into a request for an $81.7 million budget with a 3.98% spending increase. The first selectman said it is too preliminary because no mill rate has been set, but a 5.24% tax hike would be needed to fund the proposal.

The Town Council and Board of Finance will review the budget proposal and may make cuts before the Town Meeting and referendum vote.

Vavrek presented his budget proposal for fiscal year 2013-14 in the Media Center of Masuk High School on Monday night.

"We need to balance services and infrastructure needs and this budget does that," he said. "We do have to continue to invest in Monroe."

Masuk and Jockey Hollow Middle School have an SRO and Police Chief John Salvatore is asking for three new police officers who can be trained as SROs, enabling Monroe to have an SRO in all of its public schools.

"Some people would say we're overreacting," Vavrek said. "But you can't tell that to a kid who has to go to school everyday."

Monroe has had a police presence at every school in town since the Sandy Hook tragedy and has worked with Supt. of Schools James Agostine on ways to improve school security.

Agostine said the security measures focus on an improved buzz in system at the schools, higher quality video surveillance, improvements in policies and procedures and a police presence.

"I thank the first selectman and the chief," Agostine said.

The first selectman shifted $300,000 for school security upgrades from the Board of Education's budget proposal to the municipal side of the ledger. "This is not just an education issue," Vavrek said.

Capital Needs

Municipal expenditures would increase from $19,142,174 to $20,368,044 or by 6.4% and debt service from $5,586,028 to 5,879,872 or by 5.26%. The Board of Education budget — not counting grants — would go from $51,434,739 to $53,048,399 for a 3.14% increase.

Town revenue from permits and fees, etc., is estimated to fall by 2.18% from $8,971,304 to $8,775,391.

Vavrek expects total revenue to be reduced by $489,050 due to the local economy and anticipated lower funding from the state.

Vavrek touted a five year capital plan that includes $2.2 million in bonding for Fawn Hollow Elementary School's roof in 2013-14. Agostine said the roof is in extremely poor condition.

The plan also calls for repairing Masuk's roof the following year, and then Stepney Elementary School's in 2015-16.

The town and school district are upgrading to Munis financial management software and Monroe Town Hall will install fiber optics for improved phone and Internet service.

The first selectman said there will be more funding for senior center programs and $368,159 would be used to lease new trucks for the Department of Public Works.

Vavrek praised the DPW for plowing all town roads following the weekend blizzard before many surrounding towns got to all of theirs, but noted how the aging fleet of plow trucks posed a constant challenge.

The first selectman said one truck got stuck on Webb Circle and lost its plow when it was freed, leading to some calls from residents wondering why a town truck was driving around without a plow. Another truck that stalled had to be towed.

Public Comments

During a public comment session, Steve Kirsch asked about the status of contract negotiations with Honeywell, a private firm offering to do millions of dollars worth of projects to improve the energy efficiency of all town and school buildings and to pay for it all through the savings on utility bills.

"The status will be discussed this week," Vavrek said. "There are major questions about finances."

He said the town has spoken with Yankee Gas Co. and CL&P and the savings are available, "it's just a matter of who does it and when."

Steve Schapiro asked about the town's legal budget going over by $582,000 this year. Vavrek admitted it was a bad year for legal fees, but stressed that it is not something that can be predicted with certainty.

Schapiro also asked why, after saving around $240,000 in insurance costs this year, the town is asking for a $260,000 increase over what was budgeted. He said town officials "budget on a budget on a budget" without looking at actual spending.

jim laguardia February 12, 2013 at 05:15 PM
So who is taking your money and using it in an illegal or unethical way??? Those are pretty big insinuations....
Sarah February 12, 2013 at 05:22 PM
very well said Greg!
Lisa B. February 12, 2013 at 05:22 PM
Well put.
captrips February 12, 2013 at 05:35 PM
@jim laguardia - You're missing the point. The legal and unethical parameters were just that, parameters. That is, when one entity pays another entity for providing goods and/or services, the expectation is that they are provided in a legal, ethical and efficient fashion. That statement IS NOT an accusation and quite frankly, I'm not sure why anyone would take this statement as such.
jim laguardia February 12, 2013 at 05:41 PM
Oh good I thought maybe there was a dice game going on in the back room at town hall...
QWERTY February 12, 2013 at 05:52 PM
Correct, for a fresh install. I'm assuming town hall already has internet access. I guess I'm a little skeptical as I'd like to see a need for this. What's the basis for installing technology that can deliver superbly fast bandwidth? What are we downloading in town hall here?
QWERTY February 12, 2013 at 05:57 PM
And needless to say the speed is limited by the ISP anyways.
QWERTY February 12, 2013 at 06:04 PM
But here's the problem, some of these increases target one-time problems yet the increase remains in the budget forever. So when a $200K increase goes to the cost of buying a new snow plow....what happens to that $200K in the next budget?! When we're told a certain portion of an increase goes towards a new roof for XYZ...I expect that money to go towards a new roof for ABC the following budget. Thus, I don't want to hear anymore "WE NEED MORE MONEY FOR NEW ROOFS". The town doesn't offer one-time increases. The increase persists forever. I'd be more inclined to give the town a 5% increase this year and this year only if it was indeed used for infrastructure improvements.
jim laguardia February 12, 2013 at 06:05 PM
I could be wrong but I think some of the upgraded wires have to do with being able to monitor school entrances from P.D.
Non-Fiction February 12, 2013 at 06:29 PM
So the solution is to not fund infrastructure, wait until it falls apart, then end up paying more? Isn't that why we are seeing so many needs? It keeps getting put off due to budgetary issues, it keeps getting worse, and each year the cost increases. The same people who complain about taxes would then be the first to complain about dilapidated roofs etc.
captrips February 12, 2013 at 06:30 PM
QWERTY - Agreed, hence the comment that the public sector needs to live like the private sector.
Non-Fiction February 12, 2013 at 06:45 PM
@Captrips - Because the students are spread across 5 buildings and STEM . If we had a district wide 3rd grade housed in one building and we lost 25 students in that grade then we could reduce a teacher. However there are hundreds of classrooms spread throughout the district. The district has been cutting staff more sharply then a decline in enrollment warrants as explained by the Superintendent. We still have very large class sizes compared to similar towns.
jim laguardia February 12, 2013 at 06:56 PM
Those darn kids ALL of them expect safe roofs over their heads, don't they know the kids across town were the lucky ones to get a roof over the last 5 years??? Maybe the BoE could come up with "out of the box" ideas for the leaky roofs... how many drops of water fall from hole A in one hour compared to hole Z, and which one fills a trash bin first (math and science class) and the kids can run obsticle courses around the trash bins (gym) the options are never ending
Steve Kirsch February 12, 2013 at 07:27 PM
Stew, How did your taxes in Monroe go up 8% last year? The Mill ratre increase was less than 2%?
Schap February 12, 2013 at 07:30 PM
@ Greg Sullivan- You make 3 good points and i believe that the budget for snow removal is adequate for DPW to do the same outstanding job they did this past storm. I believe the all day K was estimated and put into the budget for not that much due to good forecast and budgeting and three I don't believe anyone is against better security. My statement has to do that we are increasing spending by 3.98% over a budget that we don't know what we have spent. I believe the 10.5 million budgeted for health insurance/workers comp/liabilty/dental insurance/life/and disability is quite rich for this community. 13% of spending! We are budgeting based on a budget which could compound the expense. Additionally we do not have to budget the 150K for Chalk Hill which should offset some of the $'s for security up grades. No matter what the budget is they will spend every dime of our tax dollars.
Alex February 12, 2013 at 07:47 PM
I agree with your reasoning. One time items do seem to become permanent. I guess we won't know all the details till we see the line item budget and compare it to last years. Wonder when that will be released on our town site?
Jennifer Aguilar February 12, 2013 at 09:03 PM
@ captrips- I'm not sure sure which group you are referring to that fought "tooth and nail" to keep Chalk Hill open. The first was be a school and that just made sense being that it was on a school campus location. The second group, was to keep it open as a community center, which is what it was supposed to be. It's a good thing we ALL fought for this, because had it been closed or mothballed, it would never have been available to reopen. We have teachers retireing that are not being replaced, that is lowering teachers due to lower enrollment, as you think should happen. Do have have kids in any of these classrooms with 23-24 or more kids? And are there any problematic children for the teacher to contend with along with trying to teach your child? There are so many factors in teaching now, it is not sitting in front of a class while they write on chalk boards. It is challenging, and the more kids you add, the more challenges there are.
jim laguardia February 12, 2013 at 09:22 PM
how are roofs on seperate buildings "one time items" ?? last night they said that there is a 4 year plan for Fawn Hollow, Stepney, and Masuk to have roof repairs/new roofs... which two of those would you like to leave as is?? you make the choice and tell those kids they have to eat lunch next to trash cans that are catching water leaking from the roof
QWERTY February 13, 2013 at 12:16 AM
Jim, roofs are one time costs because you replace them once and they last for decades. Didn't this town just allocate the last increase for town hall (or some building) repair? Use the money from that increase to fix the school roofs. Again, last year or the year before we were told the increase was going towards snow plow upgrades....so why is the town asking for MORE money on this subject? What happened to the increase specifically set for plows two years ago?
jim laguardia February 13, 2013 at 12:21 AM
But there is more than one roof in town.... you can't replace one and then just say screw the rest of them!!!!
Jennifer Aguilar February 13, 2013 at 02:17 AM
@ Schap, all the things you list that are eating this budget are things that can not control. As are teacher salaries and their insurance. Some of these things are negotiated and not controlled by either the First Selectman or The Superintendent. When we have 2 years of 0%, how are we supposed to move forward continuing down that road?
QWERTY February 13, 2013 at 04:09 AM
So use the money that was already allocated for the town hall repairs from the previous budget increase!
Alex February 13, 2013 at 02:27 PM
"or you can move to trumbull and pay more taxes" Yes, they have slightly higher taxes, but they also have sewers. I'd take that trade off. If we had sewers our mil rate would likely be above 35. You don't feel like your getting short changed at all sometimes?
Schap February 13, 2013 at 03:26 PM
@ jennifer, I believe the administration needs to deal with the actuals that are shown in final budget expensed. I know that a great deal is by contractable agreements, but we need to understand how the actuals are derived. If in a year the actual is well under budget it should be explained and if the actual is greater than budget we need to investigate. By your point I guess the citizens of Monroe need to be more in tune when these contracts are renewed, because it is our taxes that paid for the benefits of our employees and the insurance for the liability of "OUR" town.
the watcher February 13, 2013 at 07:06 PM
Ask for more then you can get then settle for any increase you can get by the voters after you have worn them out with a dozen referendums. It the same old story. Call every tax increase progress toward the future when in reality nothing has changed in years. It appears are homes and property are assessed for more then their current value. Just how is owning a home here an investment.? Bang for our buck? Enrollment has dropped by hundred of student over the last several years and yet eduction budget never reflected those large decreases. If you have less students and keep the budget the same that is really an increase, If our infrastructure is failing apart its due to poor management and politics. Everything seems to be all about politics and unions. No one is really looking is out for the average independent voter or for the future of this town. All of this while the economy has been in a serious recession has me serious thinking of leaving and moving to another state.. The quality of life here has been diminished and we are being told it progress. Progress towards what and for who?
jim laguardia February 13, 2013 at 09:01 PM
Shap..... I am assuming you were the person who spoke the other night and while I think you have a point as to the "budget on a budget".... I think your better point was that the information is not available till you walk in the door, if they have time to get the info to a printer and have it printed why can't they post it online at the same time so people can review it prior to the official presentation.... even if they put a disclaimer on it saying its not official or something like that. (I will say unfortunatly your points may have been lost on some in the crowd by your tone)
Cara J. Kramer February 13, 2013 at 09:47 PM
"a dozen referendums" - ? not quite the case!
Mary Lynn February 14, 2013 at 03:53 AM
@jimlaguardia- I think what folks are trying to day is that we increase the budget by $200,000 to buy new plows, and then after the plows are purchased, that $200,000 is already assumed to be needed, and then added to with these increases. If we spent $200,000 on plows, then the next budget should START with a $200,000 decrease.
Mary Lynn February 14, 2013 at 03:59 AM
Greg, what civilized nations are you talking about. Many nations around the world do not have a "kindergarten" system, and many European nations believe that in fact, early learning hinders education rather than enhances it. Many European nations also have much shorter school days throughout, including countries - like India, where many students start at the same times as US students, but go home for lunch - for the day. This is not a debate about full day K and whether it is appropriate, only that referring to "civilized nations" all have it is neither correct, nor is it appropriate - unless we are trying to keep up with the kardashians.
jim laguardia February 14, 2013 at 04:31 AM
Yes that makes some sense as far as plows go... but roofs on different buildings are not the same thing

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