Thursday night, the Board of Selectmen finalized a $37.34 million budget proposal for the 2013-14 fiscal year, a sum that, coupled with the Board of Education’s $44.62 million plan, means the town overall is proposing a $81.96 million budget for next year.
The total represents a 4.16 percent increase, or $3.28 million more, than the town’s $78.79 million budget for this year. The amount taxes will have to be raised to support the proposal remains unknown, as the town is going through a revaluation and the grand list will not be finalized until the end of February, Waterford Finance Director Rudie Beers said.
In the proposal, the municipal government’s operating budget is increasing by more than double the Board of Education’s operating budget. First Selectman Dan Steward said the best way for him to address those increases in the future is by negotiating better union contracts.
“The best solution we have is to negotiate better in our contracts,” Steward said. “One of the first things I told (new Human Resources Director Joyce Sauchuk) was to tear them apart.”
The biggest increase in the budget proposal overall is an increase in bonding to pay for the town’s five new schools. The town will spend $1.8 million more on school bonding next year, which represents roughly half of the increase in the proposal.
The budget proposal now goes to the Board of Finance, who will review it during the month of March, and then to the Representative Town Meeting, who will finalize the budget in early May.
The Board of Education’s $44.62 million proposal is a $423,405 increase from this year’s $44.2 million total, or a 0.96 percent increase. Meanwhile, the municipal government’s operating budget increases by $1 million, from $28.6 million to $29.6 million, or a 3.63 percent increase, in the proposal.
The largest increase for the municipal government is a $329,223 increase in insurance costs, mostly from a large increase in health insurance costs. Conversely, the Board of Education is spending $590,000 less on health insurance next year.
Steward said the best way for the town to contain its health insurance costs is to have union employees pay higher co-pays, to have them pay for a larger percentage of their health care plans and to give them the option of a health savings account. Steward said the Board of Education did that with its employees and it has contained costs.
“The Board of (Education) has basically set a pattern for all of us,” Steward said.
The other large increases in the proposal is and $106,886 more for the fire department’s budget.
The police department has 47 police officers, the same amount it had in 1984, Steward said. Most other town departments have cut employees since then, but Steward said the nature of the police department does not allow him to do that.
Instead, he said he can contain the cost of the department by negotiating a better contract with the police union. He said he will push to increase co-pays and cost-sharing of health insurance plans for police officers and try to reduce the amount of time off they get, to reduce overtime.
As mentioned, the largest increase in the budget is a $1.8 million increase in bonding to fund the construction of five new schools in town. The construction cost of those projects has already been approved by the RTM, Beers said.