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Letter: First Selectman Presents Darien's Budget

DARIEN, Conn. – The following address was made by Darien First Selectman Jayme Stevenson to the Board of Finance upon presenting the proposed 2012-13 budget .

This document represents months of hard work and deliberations by our board, department heads, Town Administrator Karl Kilduff and Finance Director Kate Buch. I want to publicly thank them all for their thoughtful decision-making on behalf of our taxpayers.

This budget represent has two overriding themes. First, absent public voice to the contrary, an attempt to preserve town services at their current level while looking for operating efficiencies. Second, we acknowledge a commitment to responsible infrastructure investments in a time of historically low financing and construction costs. From this perspective, the weak economy has given us an opportunity to invest in upgrades and amenities that, I believe, will enhance our property values over time. We are grateful to our taxpayers who understand that an economically strong and vibrant community requires investments of this kind.

The Board of Selectmen’s budget for operating, capital and debt service is proposed to be $41,298,468, which is an increase of $2,499,683 or 6.44 percent over the fiscal year 2012 budget. Town operating expenses are planned to increase by 2.6 percent over the current fiscal year. Total personnel costs are increasing by 2.4 percent with the balance of the increase attributed to capital requests and combined debt service on town, sewer and Board of Education debt.

While town debt is increasing in this budget, it is important to note that only 14 percent of the proposed debt service is tied to Town-related projects. Additionally, steps have already been taken by the Board of Finance to reduce the impact of the debt service.  $500,000 of capital funding is requested for the state-mandated five-year property revaluation. This amount exceeds total Board of Selectmen capital requests.

I want to thank your board for your fair consideration of our budget and the conservative criteria you impose to ensure we preserve our sound financial position. We welcome any prudent cash management tools you suggest to help balance taxpayer burdens over time and your consideration of any available reserve fund amounts to support capital spending requests.

My board pledges to you to do two things over the coming year. We will take a mid-year look at our budget and spending patterns to better prepare for our next budget cycle and we will discuss what, if any, policy changes might be prudent and necessary to help offset future budget increases. The public will have an important role in these discussions.

What I would like to ask of this board, for future budgets, is to open a dialogue in advance of the formal budget process with both my board and the Board of Education to communicate our respective expectations about the upcoming budget. We are a town of collaboration, and the budget process should follow this same philosophy. Additionally, I would like to ask that we begin an earnest dialogue about “shared services” among all town bodies. We owe it to our taxpayers to be open-minded and willing to find more efficient ways of doing business.

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