February 26, 2020

Fairfield budget proposal up by 7 percent

FAIRFIELD — Town officials have drafted a $3.4 million budget that would raise spending by 7 percent.

Most of the proposed $216,000 increase would be spread among cost-of-living raises, higher insurance costs and public works projects.

If left untouched, spending for town services would raise Fairfield’s tax rate to $21.40 per $1,000 of property valuation, an 80-cent increase. As a result, the tax bill on an $80,000 home would rise about $65.

Voters will have the final say at town meeting, starting at 7 p.m. Monday in the community center gym.

“I don’t think the budget has a lot of fluff in it,” Town Manager Paul Blanchette said Thursday.

“It’s realistic,” he said. “It gives us what we need.”

In the past, Fairfield budgets often ran into the red, forcing officials to use money from surplus. Last year’s budget was overspent by nearly $73,000, or 2 percent. More than half the overrun came from the Police Department.

“We can’t keep working with unrealistic budgets,” Blanchette said.

Town councilors agreed.

“The council was kind of determined that the budget reflect reality,” Councilor Bill Bois said Thursday. “We think we have funded each account at a level that represents actual operations.”

The budgets for most departments show slight increases, reflecting rising health insurance costs and contractual 3-percent raises. According to Blanchette, wages and benefits account for about one-fifth of the overall spending increase.

The largest piece would come from public works.

The proposal includes $20,000 more for paving projects than the year before, which Blanchette said reflects a jump in the price of asphalt.

Despite the price increase, town officials approved the same amount of road work as in years past. The town plans to pave about 4 1/2 miles of roads, including parts of the Martin Stream and Green roads.

“If you do less now, it’s going to catch up to you in the long run,” Blanchette said.

In addition, the public works budget calls for the purchase of a loader for $142,000. Of that amount, $50,000 would be borrowed and $30,000 taken from reserve, leaving taxpayers with $62,000.

Overall, the budget proposal includes additional money for smaller items, among them a $5,000 replacement furnace for the town office.

In drafting the budget, town officials faced higher requests from many social service agencies and charities. In most cases, councilors approved less than the organizations had wanted.

One exception was the Waterville Area Boys and Girls Club, which had asked for $15,000 — $8,000 more than the year before. Town officials agreed to the increase.

“They put on a good presentation,” Blanchette said. “They told us that if we funded them, all the kids that attend schools in Fairfield would get a free pass to the Y” in Waterville.

Overall, councilors said they were pleased with the budget proposal.

“The departments have requested what they’ve needed,” said Councilor Philip Roy.

“The council, the town manager and the budget committee did a great job coming together with a workable budget,” he said.

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