Staffing to snow removal, Monroe Town Council discusses municipal expenses

Town department heads gather inside the South Wing Conference Room of Monroe Town Hall for the Town Council's budget workshop Wednesday night.

MONROE, CT — In response to town Democrats’ concerns over numerous staff vacancies at Monroe Town Hall, First Selectman Terry Rooney shared an update during the Town Council’s budget workshop Wednesday evening.

Among the recent positions filled were a police records clerk, two assistant animal control officers, a planning and zoning administrator and a zoning enforcement officer.

“In the last three months we hired 13 people,” Rooney said.

Some Democrats have also wondered whether lower salaries could be a reason for Monroe’s high turnover rate. The first selectman provided salary comparisons.

For example, the salary range for a sanitarian in Monroe is $57,000 to $71,423. In Newtown the range is $45,000 to $88,000, New Canaan $64,000 to $86,000, and West Haven $68,500 to $77,500. The high end refers to senior sanitarian positions, according to Rooney.

The new salary range being proposed for a police dispatcher is a starting salary from $55,277 to $64,518. Rooney said comparable wages are $51,317 to $58,926.

“We’re comparable with the exception of some of high end towns,” he said. “Some of these positions take a high level of skills and they are hard to find,” Rooney added of filling the vacancies.

Police Chief Keith White said there are two police officer openings, which should be filled by the summer.

The Town Council is expected to decide on the $31,437,169 budget request for municipal services, within the total $103.67 million town budget proposal, at their regular meeting on March 11.

Chairman Jonathan Formichella asked fellow council members to email any motions they will want to make to him by Friday, so everyone can absorb it over the weekend. However, he said motions can still be made live during Monday’s meeting.

Reviewing the budget

On Wednesday, town department heads, fire chiefs, Fire Marshal William “Bill” Davin, and White filled seats in the South Wing Conference Room of Town Hall as Rooney, Town Council members, Finance Director Ronald Bunovsky Jr. and Deputy Finance Director Heidi Meade sat at a table in front of the room.

Council members flipped through pages of the budget, going department by department with Formichella asking if anyone had questions.

“Thank you for your efforts,” he said. “This is not an easy budget cycle. Many tough decisions have been made and will be made. There was a tremendous amount of effort by town department heads and the first selectman. Everyone should be proud of the work they did for this budget and the Monroe taxpayers.”

During discussions, Councilwoman Cathy Kohut asked Parks and Recreation Director Missy Orosz if new projects and activities are planned.

“If the sale of St. Jude goes through I will need more staffing, but for now we’re holding our own,” Orosz said.

When Community and Social Services Director Kim Cassia’s budget was discussed, Kohut asked if she needed additional staffing.

“I would love to have all my staff full-time,” Cassia said. “We cover social and senior services. I would definitely like to have more hours. All our employees can use more time because the number of residents in this town is growing.”

Cassia said her department is meeting the public’s needs and demand but, her social worker in particular, needs more hours for the workload. “No. Staffing is not adequate,” she said.

Kohut asked how much money would be needed and Cassia said that is something that would have to go through Human Resources.

Cassia said membership at the Monroe Senior Center has been growing with many people coming from Trumbull as well as from within the town.

Health Director Amy Lehaney said a sanitarian position is still open because, now that she has led the department for a year-and-a-half, she knows what she needs out of the position and the responsibilities are being rewritten.

HR Director Craig Hirsch said it will be a cross between a sanitarian and a community health educator. The position is currently being paid for with a grant and someone is training for the role.

The Makerspace

Councilman Jason Maur asked about a $10,000 cut the first selectman made to Edith Wheeler Memorial Library’s request.

Library Director Nicole Cignoli said it was to the reference and technology departments. A position helps to staff the reference desk, while also running the Makerspace. Since the library reopened after the pandemic, Cignoli said they fell behind with patrons’ appointments to use the Makerspace, particularly for the glowforge.

“It takes people away from the desk,” she said. “I’m looking for 11 more hours a week. That could get us Tuesday, Thursday and maybe a couple Saturdays.”

Cignoli said it is not a full $10,000, because the net cost to the town is $3,600. “We’d love to have that back,” she said.

Rooney said he met with Cignoli to talk about the cut and thought, “maybe I was a little unfair there.”

“I talked with the Board of Finance about maybe replacing some of that money,” he said. “That was possibly an oversight on my part.”

The town’s registrars of voters are asking for a significant increase due to the extra hours for the Presidential Primaries, training, staffing and early voting this year.

Formichella noted there was a recent $10,000 grant and asked if they could get more funding from the Secretary of the State, but Republican Registrar Debra Dutches said no more money will be granted by the state.

Formichella asked if the money in their budget is adequate to get them through the year. Dutches said it could be with savings coming from holding the primaries and budget referendum at St. Jude, but they do not know at this point.

The administrative salaries line would increase from $47,000 to $56,400. The entire Registrars of Voters budget would increase by $37,750 to $175,440 or by 27.42 percent.

Grant writing

Several council members asked questions about grant writing and Kohut asked if the town has considered hiring a grant writer.

Hirsch said a new special projects coordinator position will have that responsibility.

Currently, he said Holsworth, Cassia, Lehaney and other department heads do grant writing.

“Who identifies the grants that are available?” Councilwoman Dona-Lyn Wales asked.

Hirsch said individual departments do and Rooney said he learns about available funding by attending Connecticut Metropolitan Council of Governments meetings, as well as receiving information about Local Capital Improvement Program grants, which he shares with staff.

‘Sticker shock’

Tax Collector Deborah Heim said the bulk of her department’s increase is from the rising cost of stickers for permitting. “Stickers are costing a lot and we’re mailing them,” she said.

Maur asked Heim if she could research other vendors, so a switch could be considered next year.

Heim said of 169 Connecticut municipalities, 150 use this vendor and other towns are considering using them.

Community and Economic Development Director William Holsworth answered questions about his office and the Planning and Zoning, Building and Inland Wetlands departments.

Monroe has a planning and zoning administrator. Kohut asked if the town will go back to having a town planner at some point.

Holsworth said those responsibilities were broken up between the planning and zoning administrator and himself in a reorganization the Town Council approved last year.

Snow removal

Because the town had light winters the last two years, significantly more money has been left over in the account for snow removal and salt, so Maur asked if that line item in the public works’ budget could be cut with more money placed in the Board of Finance’s contingency account.

Bunovsky said just under $103,000 was spent in the $477,000 snow removal account this year. “About $264,000 is encumbered right now, a lot for salt that’s probably not going to be purchased,” he said.

Though the last two winters have been light, he said the town spent $383,000 and $432,000 in recent years.

“So that money was spent before. That’s what I wanted to hear,” Maur said.

Public Works Director Chris Nowacki said winters can be light, until they’re not. Though the usage of plow truck drivers has been been down, he noted that the cost for contractors has gone up.

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