With the first of spring’s flowers, I am reminded that even after a harsh winter, the world comes back to life. I share your relief and cautious optimism that COVID-19’s grip has finally loosened. Town Hall offices are opening slowly as we occupy our beautifully renovated space. Remember that there’s no backup for key Town employees to maintain continuity of government should someone get sick so please be patient. We can’t wait to see you again!
The Board of Finance (BOF) is now in final weeks of FY2021-22 budget review. All meetings are open and include public comment. Get involved early to make sure your voice and interests are heard.
I always approach the town’s budget with a conservative eye seeking to maximize taxpayer dollars, but spending when needed to improve services. Since my first budget in FY2016-17 until now, annual increases averaged less than 2%. Acknowledging the impact of the pandemic on our residents and community, I sought to further minimize increases as I tackled this budget. That goal faced numerous obstacles.
To begin, without changing anything from FY20-21, automatic payroll increases start us off at a 2.06% increase (+$336,200). These include:
• Union contracts both settled in FY20-21 and currently pending resulting in wage and FICA increases (+$171,200)
• Vacancies left unfilled or deferred in FY20-21 to accommodate COVID-19 budget concessions now filled and fully funded (+$46,000)
• 53-week payroll for hourly employees in FY21-22 resulting in one-week base wages and FICA increases (+$93,000)
• Increase in CT minimum wage impacting Parks & Recreation seasonal salaries (+$26,000)
The BOF strives for cost of living increases year over year- a modest 1.4% for FY21-22. With this in mind, the over $1.0M additional dollars originally requested by department heads for FY21-22 were ultimately reduced by nearly $405,000. This necessitated deferring consideration of new staffing requests including two new firefighters, Senior Center kitchen staff, an assistant children’s librarian and a second police captain. Good news – the reorganization of the Assessor and Tax Collector Departments realized $17,400 in savings.
The budget approved by the Board of Selectmen (BOS) on February 24, 2021 and presented to the BOF for review and approval totals $16,978,875 – a 3.88% increase (+$634,125) versus FY20-21. Only 1.82% (+$297,925) of the increase represents “new” spending which funds:
• 2% increase for non-union salaries (+$46,000)
• Additional full time paramedic (+$85,000)
• Additional hours for current part-time Planning & Zoning admin and communications manager/webmaster (+$54,198)
• Public Works proactive facility, grounds and vehicle maintenance (+$74,250)
• Information Technology expenses (+$49,963)
• Estimated public utility increases for water and trash collection (+$58,000)
The completion of Town Hall returns $78,650 in rent and carrying costs. At this writing, we are committed to return to the Town Meeting budget approval process in place prior to COVID-19. We await official permission from the Governor.
The Veterans Appreciation Committee (VAC), advisory to the BOS, held its first meeting on February 16, 2021. The mission is to organize, support and recommend veterans initiatives on behalf of the Town including:
• Expansion of Veterans Memorial Park
• Connect with Suffield Veterans
-Appoint new Municipal Veterans Representative
-Assist with compilation of stories spearheaded by retired Gunnery Sergeant “Fritz” King
• Oversight of Annual Memorial and Veterans Day Observances; Field of Flags Exhibit
To fully and appropriately implement these efforts, we need more public participation. All volunteers are welcome – prior military service not required. The VAC plans to meet next on April 20th – see http://www.suffieldct.gov/our-town/veterans for info. In closing, I am proud and encouraged to report that Suffield is in the top third of the state in vaccinating our residents! Hang tight! This must be the home stretch!