Board of Selectmen
Tuesday, April 27, 2020
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Present: Julia Pemberton, First Selectwoman; Peg O’Donnell, Selectwoman; Michael Thompson, Selectman.
Also present: 30 residents joined in the meeting including Board of Finance Chairwoman Dr. Yonkers, Tax Collector Pat Moisio, Finance Director Steve Gniadek, Treasurer Wes Higgins, members of Boards and Commissions.
1. Call to order
First Selectwoman Pemberton called the meeting to order at 6:39 p.m.
2. Approval of Minutes -4/15/2020
Mr. Thompson motioned and Mrs. O’Donnell seconded to approve the 4/15/20 Minutes.
3. Discussion and possible action on the Selectmen’s budget for the fiscal year 2020-2021
First Selectwoman Pemberton stated that she met with Treasurer Wes Higgins noting that the Board of Selectmen will have to vote if emergency funding is required and in anticipation of upcoming challenges. Mr. Higgins noted challenges both due to immediate liquidity as a result of delaying tax payment until October 2 and the long-term effect on the town and budget. The possible tax deficit could be between $1-5 million in unavailable funds leaving the cash reserve reduced going into FY 2022.
Mr. Higgins stated that a reduction in spending now will reduce the burden of replenishing cash reserves for the next fiscal year. P. O’Donnell and M. Thompson agreed that caution is needed. Mr. Higgins stated that necessary and important projects shouldn’t be postponed but principal repayment has to be factored in. Delayed tax payments will be known the first week in August and delinquency can be initially be absorbed by cash reserves. Mrs. O’Donnell noted concern regarding overspending leading to small cash reserves and the need to increase taxes to replenish the reserves in FY 2021-2022.
Tax Collector Pat Moisio stated that 7% of the grand list is commercial. The Board agreed that they do not want to put a tax increase on the table this year. Mrs. Pemberton stated that the town can fund the gap without delaying capital projects. Road and the telecommunications projects were identified as necessary projects. In response to Dr Yonkers’ question regarding delayed tax payments for primary houses, J. Pemberton stated it applies to any residence in town. It is not required to prove distress is due to Covid-19 to delay tax payments until October. Mrs. Moisio confirmed that a tax account will be delinquent August 2 if payments are delayed until October.
First Selectwoman Pemberton reviewed the current budget process. The Board of Finance date as noted in the legal notice published in the Ridgefield Press changed slightly and was re-set from March 17. The next meeting is scheduled for May 5. J. Pemberton stated that as confirmed by town counsel, the initial budget is the draft. Steve Gniadek suggested that the Board of Education meet prior to next Board of Selectmen meeting re: possible budget changes. Chris Hocker, Board of Education, confirmed a meeting will be held prior to the next Board of Finance meeting.
Mr. Thompson suggested finding ways for the public to comment on the budget, Mrs. Pemberton will send a postcard and will look into ways to reach residents via robocall or reverse 911. Jamie Barickman, Board of Finance, stated that townspeople don’t know the results of budget changes on their taxes. J. Pemberton noted that the unemployment numbers and additional information is needed.
The Executive Orders pertaining to in-person meeting requirements, municipal budget adoption dates and waiving of town meeting requirements were reviewed.
First Selectwoman Pemberton reviewed potential adjustments to the Selectmen’s budget including removal of the antenna lease item due to an alternative finance arrangement, cancelation of Park & Recreation programs, reduction in town employee raises, changing payment schedule for town vehicles in addition to reducing projected fuel charges and workman’s comp payments for a total budget of $14,924, 871, down .4%.
Steve Gniadek noted $400-700,000 surplus from Region 9. Possible deeper reductions were reviewed. Julia Pemberton noted that there are many programs in town that residents are accustomed to that aren’t self-sustaining and are subsidized. Peg O’Donnell confirmed that no cuts are proposed for social services. Mr. Thompson suggested a lower town employee pay increase. J. Pemberton responded that while all suggestions will be considered, she would like to cover the cost of living.
Mr. Thompson motioned and Mrs. O’Donnell seconded to revise the Selectmen’s budget to $14,918,871 according to the spreadsheet provided by Steve Gniadek on 4/27/20.
4. Public comment
John Reilly noted the change in educational services and suggested a means test for senior tax credit benefit. Tina Miller requested an explanation of the cut in funding for open space maintenance and tree cutting. J. Pemberton confirmed that the requested funds for the Lonetown Marsh has been cut from the budget, however grant money is anticipated. Mrs. Pemberton confirmed that town aid road money can also be used for tree work.
Heather Whaley stated that the town has a duty to provide a quality education and recommended a means test for the senior tax credit. Dan Souza reported on funds and personnel let go by neighboring towns. J. Pemberton noted that the towns referenced are larger towns. Amy Arnold asked where that information can be found and who the sources are. Mr. Thompson reported that Wilton requested information about what specific percentage decreases would look like.
Mike D’Agostino asked how much of the budget adjustment is a reduction vs. pass-through charges.
Julia Pemberton reported that it is too late to address a means test for the senior tax benefit. The deadline to apply for abatement tax credit is May 15. Pat Moisio stated that the requirements for the senior tax benefit include an age of 65 years old before May 15 of the year they apply and in addition, ownership of the house for 3 years as the primary residence. She noted that the state program has to be applied to first.
5. Other business
The next Board of Selectmen meeting will be Monday, May 4, 2020.
Mr. Thompson motioned and Mrs. O’Donnell seconded to adjourn the meeting at 8:45 p.m.
Submitted by: Kristi C. Reilly