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Westport Increases Taxes, Cuts Services as OPEB Liability Hinders Budget

First Selectman Gordon Joseloff presented the Westport Town Budget for the 2012-13 fiscal year at town hall Wednesday night.

Although the $73.9 million municipal budget is an increase of $2,204,007 (3.08 percent) over last year’s budget, finance board members feel it is unjust to increase taxes while  

Although the majority of the town’s departments submitted flat budgets, Joseloff highlighted some of the town’s greatest expenses for the 2012-13 fiscal year:

  • $770,000 in road repairs out of a $9 million public works department budget.
  • $500,000 transfer to the
  • $500,000 in additional health and wage increases.
  • $175,000 for police and fire vehicle replacement.
  • $114,000 transfer to the sewer fund.

Road maintenance and repairs is an area that has been cut back on in recent years, according to Joseloff.

“Only multiple years of double-digit increases on this line will get us back to near where we want to be,” Joseloff said. “Neglecting our infrastructure needs, whether it is roads or buildings, as you know from our history, is a recipe for disaster.”

Joseloff acknowledged that personnel costs, , continue to drive Westport’s budget. He noted that the town has Instead,

Board of Finance Chair Avi Kaner called the budget the tightest ‘first-run budget’ he’s seen in the seven years he has served on the board.  He agreed with the first selectman concerning the poorly maintained roads in Westport.

The town of Westport has 125 miles of road, and Kaner said they usually have a 12-year lifespan.

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“There is a ten mile per year cycle in order to pave all our roads in a twelve year period,” Kaner said. “Over the past few years we’ve cut that down and we do need to catch up somewhat.”

Including , Westport is looking at about a three percent tax increase for next year. Board of Finance Vice Chair Helen Garten recalled several town department heads describe during their budget workshops the services they were

“A three percent tax increase is not going to transfer into three percent better services for our taxpayers or for our schools’ population,” Garten said, attributing the problem solely to the fact that Westport has not made progress in reforming pensions and benefits for municipal employees. “The problem is not just a problem for future Westporters, we have a problem right now.”

The budget proposal is asking Westport tax payers to contribute $14.5 million to the cost of employee retirement benefits, which does not include the subsidization we are going to give to current employees for their medical benefits next year, Garten said. She believes this is the reason department heads are scraping the bottom of the barrel looking for savings, yet we are still projecting a tax increase.

“We have to be honest, the steps we have taken so far against pension reform will not stop the bleeding,” she said. “We need change and we need it now, before we are forced to make major and perhaps irreversible cuts to our town services and schools.”

Garten would like to see Westport:

  1. Allocate employee benefits costs to relevant departments to understand the real cost of our personnel decisions.
  2. Move to defined contribution plans for retiree medical benefits because the current approach, which obligates taxpayers to bare the risk of medical cost inflation, is ‘mortgaging’ our future.
  3. Require current employees to contribute more to their future retirement.

Board of finance member Tom Lasersohn also believes personnel costs are what’s restricting Westport’s budget as they have increased by $33.8 million since 2007.

Lasersohn said Westport must start recognize that some of the

Currently Westport spends about a dollar in benefits for every dollar in payroll – something that is ‘suffocating’ our town budget, according to Brian Stern, a member of the finance board. 

“If we pass this budget, we cut service and increase tax. I can’t accept that outcome one more time,” Stern said. 

He predicted Westport will be in for stale services and limited investment in the future and believes the proposed budget shows no structure change among town departments.

“In my experience as a businessman, you start studying, working on public opinion, working on the key leverage points way before contracts begin and you’re fully prepared,” Stern said.

Stern called the budget the ‘vehicle for making decisions’ and would like to use it for that purpose.

“It’s just not fair for our residents that we continue to pay for waist and an unplanned future,” he said.

EDWARD C SAENZ March 08, 2012 at 04:21 PM
I sgree that town employees must pay more for their retirement. Roads and other infrastructure need to be maintined. Our schhols need constant improvement. This is all necessary. Good luck Edward Saenz Westport, CT
Tom Doyle March 09, 2012 at 12:39 PM
Almost everyone working today in the private sector has seen their retirement and post retirement benefits change where employees contribute more. Why should Westport be any different? Also the town should be much more circumspect about new project that we just can not afford and they should be looking at cheaper ways to provide certain services now knowing the real cost of town labor. Finally residents will end up paying more and more each year until we get this situation into balance.

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