MONROE, CT — Monroe recently joined other municipalities to lock in fuel rates, saving $89,414 over projections in the town budget proposal for fiscal year 2023-24, according to First Selectman Ken Kellogg.
As a result, he told the Town Council the tax increase would be lower, at 2.48 rather than 2.58 percent
“Everything is going up, but by not as much,” Kellogg said at a budget workshop Tuesday, adding it is “good news.”
The Town Council is reviewing the $31.36 million municipal budget proposal for town services and expects to vote on it at its regular meeting on March 13. It can make revisions before the proposal moves to the Board of Finance.
The Board of Finance will review the entire $99.86 million town budget proposal, which includes both the municipal and Board of Education budgets. Then a revised spending plan will come before voters at the May 2 referendum.
Statutorily, the first selectman, Superintendent of Schools Joseph Kobza and the Board of Education must prepare their budget proposals before all of the information is available, such as state grant funding and health insurance rates.
Officials make projections as best they can and are sometimes able to reduce their proposals later when numbers come out lower than expected. This year, fuel was among those categories.
Kellogg said the initial estimated increase for gasoline was 16 percent, before the town locked in a 12 percent increase. Diesel was a whopping 48 percent estimate, but it will actually be a 19 percent hike.
Heating oil was also locked in significantly lower, at a 17 percent, rather than a 49 percent increase.
This means thousands of dollars in savings, especially for public works ($35,857), heating facilities ($19,292) and fuel for police vehicles ($10,951). Across the board, it’s a savings of $89,414.
While fuel rates came in lower than expected, Kellogg said Aquarion Water Co.’s water distribution system for fire hydrants was actually $11,194 higher than the estimated increase in the first selectman’s budget proposal.
The $31,367,821 municipal budget proposal is a $569,411 or a 1.85 percent increase over the current $30,798,410 spending plan.
On Tuesday, Town Council members asked department heads questions about their budgets and several told them next 2023-24 will be “a learning year” with a reshuffling of responsibilities and position changes proposed in Kellogg’s municipal budget.
The first selectman said some departmental efficiencies were found.
Among them, he said the parks and recreation maintainers already work closely with public works and are in the same union as public works employees.
They maintain the grounds at Wolfe Park, the Monroe Senior Center, Monroe Town Hall, Edith Wheeler Memorial Library, firehouses, Webb Mountain, the roundabout and Stepney Green, and provide snow removal for those properties.
“I’m proposing to shift this maintenance into the Parks and Recreation Department,” Kellogg said, when presenting his budget.
He also proposes rolling supervisor positions at the Parks and Recreation and Public Works departments into one position, a general foreman who will oversee all staff and report to the deputy director of public works.
This would provide more organizational efficiency, while saving $79,000 in salaries, according to Kellogg.
On Tuesday, Councilman Jason Maur asked Parks and Recreation Director Missy Orosz her thoughts on the proposed changes.
“The services won’t change from what our parks guys already do and there are already things public works helps us with, so this will be a seamless transition,” she said. “They’re going to help follow up. It’s cutting the middleman out. It just makes sense. The guys already work in that union. It makes it easier for day-to-day operations that there is one person in charge of those jobs.”
Orosz also said the change allows her to spend more time on programming than worrying as much about maintenance.
Maur asked if the budget, as presented, is sufficient to meet her goals. Orosz said yes.
No fee increases
Council Chairman Jonathan Formichella said Kellogg gave them the 2023 parks fee schedule, which includes some increases supported by the Parks and Recreation Commission.
Among the proposed increases are day passes for the town pool. Orosz opposes it out of concern over having to turn people away.
“I’m looking to see what the council feels,” Kellogg said. “If the intention is to move forward, I can draft a resolution. If we’re going to do this, we want to get it in the budget now.”
“In my opinion, I think we’re moving in the wrong direction,” Maur said. “I think more affordable services are better, so I support Missy’s recommendation.”
“For the record, I do too,” Kellogg agreed. “I don’t want to increase the fees.”
‘A learning curve’
Among Kellogg’s proposed personnel changes, Town Planner Rick Schultz would become the planning and zoning administrator and the town planner position would be eliminated.
In the past, Kellogg said Monroe had a planning and zoning administrator without a town planner.
The first selectman said this change would be “in line with with best practices by keeping permitting processes in the same group.”
Kellogg also proposes having Planning and Zoning and Building departments report to Community and Economic Development Director William Holsworth, and for a part-time special projects coordinator to be hired.
Kellogg said this reshuffling would result in a net savings of $43,000, while eliminating over $20,000 in benefits from the town planner position.
On Tuesday, Maur also asked Public Works Director Chris Nowacki, Town Planner Rick Schultz and Community and Economic Development Director William Holsworth about the new position changes being proposed.
All three expressed confidence their departments will be able to get all of their work done, that staffing levels are adequate and salaries are high enough to attract qualified candidates.
Though Nowacki said there would be a learning curve while adopting the changes in year one.
The first selectman reminded the Town Council of last year’s budget workshops, when there were discussions of doing a cost-benefit analysis on the town providing garbage collection as a service to residents, as opposed to residents continuing to do it themselves.
Kellogg said Nowacki has since done the analysis.
“The cost to the town for a collection is similar to what we do now for recycling,” Kellogg said, adding trash collection would also include the cost of disposal.
If the town decided to pay for it in the 2023-24 budget, Kellogg said it would cost around $3.2 million and there would be a 6.9 percent increase in the mill rate.
By contrast, he said residents pay around $38 to $39 per person, per household for garbage pickup and can save even more on the collection rate if they go to the dump themselves.
“With that whole analysis, it wasn’t something I included in this budget,” Kellogg said of town garbage collection. “I also thought it would stifle business, so everything being equal, we decided not to have it in.”
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