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Minutes of Board of Finance, 05/05/2020

AGENDA: Board of Finance Special Meeting

RECEIVED 05/13/2020 11:53am
Michele R. Grande – Redding Town Clerk

TUESDAY, 5/5/2020

MINUTES (Filed subject to approval)
Click here for recording of meeting. Access Password: 6M+A5sd4 

Dr. Kimberly Yonkers, Chair; Ward Mazzucco, Vice Chair; Jamie Barickman; Rob Dean; Ed Miller; Jenifer Wyss

Also Present:
Steve Gniadek, Finance Director; First Selectwoman Julia Pemberton; Pat Moisio, Tax Collector; Wes Higgins, Treasurer; Peg O’Donnell, Selectwoman; Michael Thompson, Selectman; Chris Parkin, Redding BOE; Cheryl Graziano, Region 9 BOE

Chair Yonkers called the meeting to order at 7:01PM.

1. Approve Minutes of Meetings held on April 1, 8, 16, and 22, 2020

Mr. Mazzucco made a motion to table the minutes approval until the next BOF meeting. Mr. Miller seconded the motion. Ms. Wyss said she is fine with tabling the minutes. Mr. Miller asked if he could email his changes. The vote was unanimous, and the motion carried.

2. Public Comment
Chair Yonkers read the public comments submitted to the BOF. They can be found here:

Chair Yonkers opened the floor to Public Comment.

Susan Winters asked the BOF to represent the entire town in their budget decision.

Amy Arnold, Werf Drive, wanted to clarify comments made at the last BOF meeting. She was asking about how the senior population fit into the overall unemployment numbers.

Roger Vanausdal said the Town needs to bend the curve for their budgets to show fiscal responsibility.

Stanley Rhodes suggested that anyone who receives the Senior Tax Credit should donate $100 of this credit to help fund the BOE budget.

Reid Gray, 15 Lonetown Road, said this budget is actually a decrease in real terms and he is in favor of the budget.

Erach Screwvala, 35 Lamppost Drive, said the boards don’t get paid and that we should focus on solutions, not motives.

Howard Sherman said that Redding is a melting pot and everyone’s needs should be considered.

Vanessa Visners, 55 Mountain Road, advocated for the BOE budget.

Martine King, Rockhouse Road, said the school budget should be maintained.

Karen Gifford said the median household in Redding spends 10.65% of their income on property taxes. She said this is 20% higher than what other DRG A towns pay.

Kristen Anstett said the proposed budgets should be approved.

Linda Meyer asked the BOF to pass the proposed budgets.

Jeff Fligelman asked the BOF to consider the youngest students and that further cuts should be avoided.

3. Auditor Selection Committee Update

Ms. Wyss updated the BOF on the Auditor Selection Committee.

The Auditor Selection Committee is comprised of six people: Jenifer Wyss, Steve Gniadek (Finance Director, Town of Redding), Scott Reiss (Finance Director, Region 9), Town of Easton Finance Director, BOF member from the Town of Easton, and Cheryl Graziano (Region 9 BOE).

The proposals were due on Wednesday, April 29th. Three bids were secured. The committee met on Thursday, April 30th to discuss these bids.

The factors considered were mandatory requirements (licensure), technical quality, audit approach, and cost.

The committee has narrowed the choices down to two firms.

Approval of the winning audit firm must be approved by the Redding BOF, Region 9 BOE, and Easton BOF.

Ms. Wyss asked Mr. Gniadek if he wanted to supplement her comments.

Mr. Gniadek said he is reaching out to finance directors in 8 towns about their impressions with the auditing firms. The Committee wanted “references”.

Mr. Miller made a motion to delegate authority to the Auditor Selection Committee to choose an Auditor to present to the various boards (Redding BOF, Region 9 BOE, and Easton BOF) for approval. Mr. Mazzucco seconded the motion. Mr. Dean asked if there were legal barriers to allowing the Auditor Selection Committee to do this. Mr. Miller said the BOF needs to agree on the contract. Chair Yonkers said this was done in the past by committees and the BOF authorized the choice. The vote was unanimous, and the motion carried.

4. 2020-21 Budget Revisions

Chair Yonkers asked First Selectwoman (FS) Pemberton to summarize her revisions.

FS Pemberton said the BOS met last week and made some cuts to the budget presented at the budget hearing and legal notice, $15,232,141.

The cuts are as follows:
– Personnel, Wages and Benefits = $215,570
– Postpone Leased Mechanics Truck = $24,200
– Postpone Leased Backhoe = $38,500
– Antenna Lease from the Town of Ridgefield (cost is $1 per year) = $24,000
– Gasoline/Diesel (less Highway usage this fiscal year) = $5,000
– Open Space (Postpone Liming Fields) = $6,000

The proposed BOS budget is now $14,918,871. This is a 0.5% decrease from the FY 2020 budget ($71,592) and a 2.1% decrease from the original FY 2021 budget ($313,270).

Chair Yonkers asked FS Pemberton about the savings from FY 2020 that are being applied to the unassigned fund balance. FS Pemberton asked Mr. Gniadek to comment. He said the savings from FY 2020 will be applied to the Unassigned Fund Balance and that the cuts proposed are non-aggressive.

Mr. Barickman asked where the Town will be from a liquidity standpoint at the beginning of FY 2021. Mr. Gniadek said the liquidity at June 30th versus mid-August will be very different due to projects the Town needs to do. He said there is $850k of spending that will be spent to address these projects and that the surpluses may cover this.

Chair Yonkers reminded the BOF that any copies of the draft mill rate need to be shared with Mr. Gniadek directly to avoid confusing the public.

Mr. Barickman asked FS Pemberton about the Redding Food Pantry. FS Pemberton said there is money in the Social Services budget for the Redding Food Pantry. She said the Redding Food Pantry is underfunded and many residents have been making generous donations to support it. There was a commitment to continue supporting the Redding Food Pantry if further cuts to the BOS budget are necessary.

Mr. Barickman asked FS Pemberton if the $70,000 reduction in the FY 2021 BOS budget as compared to FY 2020 could be applied to Social Services. FS Pemberton said the BOS could consider this. The goal of the BOS for FY 2021 was to have a lower budget than FY 2020. Mr. Barickman encouraged the BOS to make this adjustment. Mr. Miller stated his support for this suggestion.

Mr. Barickman suggested that the BOS should apply the $71,592 proposed reduction in the FY 2021 budget to the Aid to Residents budget. This would make the budget flat compared to FY 2020, coming in at $14,990,463 (as opposed to $14,918,871).

Mr. Miller asked FS Pemberton to describe what Social Services provides to the Town of Redding. FS Pemberton said Angelica Fontanez is the first social worker the Town of Redding has employed. Social Services provides crisis counseling as well as aid for food, heating, and utilities. The Redding Food Pantry is not means tested but utilities aid is.

Mr. Dean asked FS Pemberton to explain the $215,570 reduction in wages and benefits. FS Pemberton said $175,000 is related to the Park and Recreation Summer Camp employment. The reduction to non-union salaries has been reduced from 3% to 2.5%. The BOS is looking at potential future reductions to salary increases. Mr. Dean said this is a one-time savings and is offset by lost revenue.

Chair Yonkers asked about donations to the Redding Food Pantry. FS Pemberton said the United Way provided a $20,000 grant to the Town of Redding.

Mr. Gniadek said there are two large aid programs in the Town of Redding: the Redding Food Pantry and Redding Shares the Warmth. The Town budgets $20,000 for these programs. Angelica Fontanez should be brought into this conversation if there is any increase to the Social Services budget.

Chair Yonkers said this potential addition is laudable, but she is not comfortable allocating additional funds without understanding the need. This is something can be revisited at a future date when more concrete data about Town needs has been gathered.

Mr. Miller asked about the year-over-year change in the budget for Social Services. FS Pemberton said the Social Services budget has increased in relation to personnel. Mr. Miller suggested that increasing the support to Social Services would be prudent due to the increase in unemployment for the Town of Redding.

Mr. Dean asked FS Pemberton if she was anticipating increased personnel for Social Services prior to the Covid-19 crisis. FS Pemberton said she anticipated increasing personnel for Social Services since she hired
Angelica Fontanez. As residents discovered the support available, need increased for additional personnel.

FS Pemberton said a large volunteer base has been coordinated due to Covid-19.

Mr. Dean said the Covid-19 crisis in Redding will be mitigated in part by a significant amount of philanthropic support as opposed to other towns and cities.

Chair Yonkers asked FS Pemberton about guidance from the State of CT on how to manage additional budget requests. FS Pemberton suggested that there are no more additions to the budget and that the BOS can always come back to the BOF in the future for an addition.

Mr. Mazzucco made a motion to approve the proposed FY 2021 BOS budget of $14,918,871. Mr. Barickman said the BOF should hear the other budgets before voting on any of them. Chair Yonkers said in the past, the BOF has voted on each budget separately and then together. Discussion followed.

Mr. Mazzucco withdrew his prior motion to pass the proposed FY 2021 BOS budget of $14,918,871.

Ms. Wyss said she is uncomfortable reallocating funds to another line item in the BOS budget.
Chris Parkin addressed the BOF about the BOE budget.
The original proposed FY 2021 BOE budget was an increase of $694,187 or 3.15 % over the FY 2020 budget.
The new proposed FY 2021 BOE budget is an increase of $506,349 or 2.29 % over the FY 2020 budget.
The total FY 2021 BOE budget that is being proposed is $22,573,796.
The proposed cuts are as follows:
– Substitutes, $20,000
– Books, $15,000
-Middle School Conference and Professional Development, $14,200
– Summer Curriculum, $18,000
– JRMS Music, $35,000
– Instructional Supplies, $16,407
– Extracurriculars, $27,231
– JRMS Cafeteria Supervisor, $7,500
– RES Recess Monitor, $7,900
– RES Classroom Teacher, $76,600

The sum of these cuts is $237,838.
There is an increase in Special Education of $50,000 in anticipation of compensatory services owed to students due to Covid-19.

The overall change is a reduction of $187,838. This is reflected in the BOE budget for FY 2021 of $22,573,796.

Ms. Wyss said budgets need to stand on their own. The Redding BOE increase is separate from the Region 9 BOE decrease.

Mr. Dean said these cuts are all personnel related. He said the BOE needs to be creative and to engage the unions about reductions.

Chair Yonkers asked Mr. Parkin about the bus company and fuel. Mr. Parkin said the bus company negotiations are being finalized. The fuel is pre-purchased. The BOE needs to use the fuel or we pay rent on it.

Chair Yonkers asked about savings concerning the BOE and where they would be allocated for FY 2020.

Chris Parkin said the savings of approximately $450k is reasonable even with the Health Insurance Reserve Fund claims.

Mr. Mazzucco asked Mr. Parkin about encumbered funds for FY 2020. Mr. Parkin said there is $4.52m in encumbered funds. $2.8m is encumbered salaries and the other $1.72m is variety of services.

Mr. Barickman asked Mr. Parkin about the elimination of the 3rd grade teacher and the implications of this cut. Mr. Parkin said the class sizes for 3rd Grade will increase from 18 students per class to 22 students per class.

Mr. Barickman said there must be no tax increase for FY 2021. The town needs to be able to provide tax relief to those who need it. He said the Town needs to maximize liquidity so that it can function through this crisis. Long-term planning needs to be implemented and systemic changes need to be carried out to reduce the tax burden on residents.

Mr. Dean said long-term planning produces long-term results and this is a short-term set of issues. The Town has limited venues for generating a non-residential tax base.

Ms. Wyss said the budgets need to be reduced in comparison to FY 2020.

Mr. Dean said the era of tax cuts is over and this crisis warrants spending that addresses the future issues that will arise because of this.

Mr. Mazzucco said Redding has high taxes. The POCD said tax stabilization is the number one concern of residents. A 5% reduction in the FY 2021 BOE budget should be considered.

Mr. Dean said Mr. Parkin’s FY 2021 BOE budget proposal is leverage. The Town sells itself through its schools. This means that cutting the education budget will reduce home values, reducing the tax base and potential revenues.

Mr. Mazzucco said Towns differ in how they approach special education. Redding is considered to have high-quality special education services.

Mr. Dean asked what the other towns around Redding are doing concerning Special Education. He said the schools need to do this research to bring costs down.

Chair Yonkers said the schools have been working on Special Education costs and are working with other towns to address this issue.

Mr. Miller said these are unprecedented times and that the BOF have acted responsibly. The Town has produced short and long-term liquidity for any potential crises. He said protecting the Town and students is more important than a credit rating.

Mr. Mazzucco said that the spending needs to change when revenues decrease.

Mr. Miller said quality schools are a requirement, not a luxury.

Mr. Dean said Redding has a better value than some other towns.

Cheryl Graziano addressed the BOF.
The FY 2021 Region 9 budget has not changed. Redding’s share of the budget has decreased $655k, or 4.75%.

5. 2020-21 Budget Discussion and Possible Action

Mr. Mazzucco made a motion to approve the FY 2021 BOS budget of $14,918,871. This is a 0.5% decrease from the FY 2020 budget ($71,592) and a 2.1% decrease from the original FY 2021 budget ($313,270). Ms. Wyss seconded the motion. Mr. Barickman said this budget is responsible budget. Mr. Dean said he supports the budget, but it is buffered by one-time savings. The vote was unanimous, and the motion carried.

Chair Yonkers asked FS Pemberton about Social Services numbers. FS Pemberton said these numbers should not be included in this proposed budget. The BOS can come back to the BOF about this issue.

Mr. Barickman made a motion to approve the FY 2021 BOE budget of $22,573,796. This is an increase of $506,349 or 2.29 % over the FY 2020 budget. Mr. Mazzucco seconded the motion. Ms. Wyss said she does not support this budget. Discussion followed concerning the unassigned fund balance and long-term planning. There were three yes votes (Barickman, Miller, and Dean) and three no votes (Mazzucco, Wyss, and Yonkers). The motion did not carry.

Chair Yonkers said a bill was passed by the CT House of Representatives that allows for a non-lapsing account for special education funds. The cap for this fund is 1% of the Town’s education budget. This was adjusted to 2%. This is a mechanism for the BOF to work out a Memoranda of Understanding (MOU) with the BOE that would allow the BOE to take 2% of its annual budget and put that into a non-lapsing account if there is an overage or any savings from this year. Discussion followed around this topic.

Chair Yonkers asked the BOF if they should table this discussion to another meeting. The BOF agreed.

FS Pemberton said the BOF needs to adopt a budget by Wednesday, 6/3/2020.

Chair Yonkers said the next BOF meeting is on Wednesday, 5/13/2020 at 7:00PM.

Mr. Mazzucco made a motion to table the vote on the BOE budget and the overall budget. Mr. Barickman seconded the motion. The vote was unanimous, and the motion carried.

Chris Parkin asked Chair Yonkers about when the public can expect a vote. Chair Yonkers said the BOF need to make a decision about the FY 2021 BOE budget at the next meeting.

6. Draft Mill Rate Sheet

This item was not addressed.

7. Other Business

This item was not addressed.

8. Public Comment

This item was not addressed.

Mr. Mazzucco made a motion to adjourn. Chair Yonkers seconded the motion. The vote was unanimous, and the motion carried.

The meeting was adjourned at 10:39PM.

Submitted by: Zachary Smith