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COVID takes aim at Westport budget

Proposed new budget $500K cut to already tight spending plan; would scrap new hires, hit schools hard

By Bruce Burdett
Posted 4/15/20

WESTPORT — The coming budget year that selectmen had already billed as excruciatingly tight seems about to get much more difficult thanks to coronavirus.

Town Administrator Tim King offered …

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Please support local news coverage –

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COVID takes aim at Westport budget

Proposed new budget $500K cut to already tight spending plan; would scrap new hires, hit schools hard

Posted

WESTPORT — The coming budget year that selectmen had already billed as excruciatingly tight seems about to get much more difficult thanks to coronavirus.

Town Administrator Tim King offered a preview to the Finance Committee (Fincom) on April 7 in which he warns that the town needs to anticipate making another $500,000 worth of cuts. That would entail significant reductions for both school and town-side operations.

Of that $500,000 in fresh cuts, his revised budget plan proposes that $350,000 of the loss would be borne by the schools, the rest by town-side departments.

Public safety hires sacrificed?

“At this point,” Fincom Chairman Gary Carreiro said, “it doesn’t seem that there are any other areas that can be cut besides payroll.”

But Mr. King pointed to two town-side areas that would cover much of that part of the shortfall.

His revised budget proposes eliminating the two public safety hires that selectmen had supported — and for which the police and fire chiefs have been lobbying for years.

“We can’t support any level of personnel increases,” the town administrator said.

Any existing town jobs, he added, “we think are essential” and should not be cut.

He also proposed “significant reductions in professional services in the Board of Selectmen and Planning Board budgets,”

Committee members should also consider recommending against at least some of the proposed capital budget items that are slated to appear on the Town Meeting warrant, several on Fincom said.

“Maybe we don’t fund all of the capital items in the budget (and instead) put some money into the stabilization fund,” Mr. Carreiro said. We don’t know where this is headed, he added — “What if it turns out we are a million dollars in the hole?”

No decision was made on that idea.

The proposed $350,000 school reduction was described as a “big hit,” but several Fincom members said the schools should be asked to account for how much money is being saved by the school closure. Savings in substitute teachers alone must amount to $10,000, one said.

Mr. King said he came to his budget conclusions based on projections for the coming fiscal year that “looked at significantly reduced local receipts and modest decreases in state aid.”

Towns have been led to expect, he said, that the economic upheaval will cause revenue reductions in areas including excise taxes, building permits, meal taxes, rooming taxes and other licensing fees.

“I hope that if we make these cuts, when and if money comes back to the communities,” that funding could be restored to diminished accounts, Mr. Carreiro said.

Even before coronavirus became an issue, Westport was already dealing with a $250,000 operating budget deficit that needed closing, compounded by a temporary $500,000 free cash shortfall created when an assessing deadline was missed.

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