Fairfield First Selectman Proposes $13.3M Town Budget Hike

Fairfield Town Hall (CT Examiner)

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FAIRFIELD — First Selectman Bill Gerber recommended a $13.3 million town budget hike on Thursday, pointing to what he said were unavoidable salary increases. 

The $370.1 million plan proposes a 3.74 percent increase over the current 2023-24 budget. In a news release, Gerber said he’s proud of the new proposal given the fiscal challenges he inherited when he was elected in November.

While Fairfield’s annual mill rate increases have remained below 1 percent since 2021, Gerber warned residents of potential tax bumps due to “challenging cliffs” he acknowledged in his State of the Town Address last month, such as a minimal property assessment increase of about 0.25 percent.

The new budget calls for a 1.81 percent mill rate increase, and reported a 0.37 percent increase in the town’s grand list. But Gerber argued the mill rate bump was modest, considering the additional funding needed in fiscal year 2024-25 for wage increases, school board operating expenses and pension contributions.

“Given the magnitude of the projects needing funding and effectively operating a town of our size, my administration is very pleased with our ability to keep the tax increase moderate while still providing exceptional service levels,” Gerber said. “We are proud to present a budget that prioritizes the safety, education, and well-being of all our residents.”

According to the news release, wages for town and school board employees account for 82 percent of the total $13.3 million proposed increase, and were largely unavoidable due to collective bargaining agreements. Gerber’s administration said the increase also accounts for “lagged” pay bumps for teachers and first responders.

Under former First Selectwoman Brenda Kupchick, the town ended a two-year contract negotiation with the firefighter union in August, increasing salaries by 2.75 percent in 2024. And earlier this year, the town finalized a contract with the local teachers union, which will increase salaries by an average of 1.15 percent beginning in July. 

Gerber also budgeted for a 359.33 percent — or $97,020 — increase in part-time payroll for Administrative Services to fund a new communications director position and existing community relations coordinator, a 19.12 percent increase in regular payroll for the fire department under the new contract, and a 16.75 percent jump in regular payroll to fund a new natural resource specialist.

The budget also proposed a 100 percent decrease in the Registrar of Voters’ regular payroll — from $74,772 to nothing — as the office will now use part-time help.

The departments with the largest budget increases over last year include the fire department with about $2.7 million, the police department with $651,665, the Emergency Communications Center with $464,986 and legal services with $310,000.

Gerber’s administration said the new budget highlights investment in public safety, particularly “long overdue” investments in the fire department. Along with wage increases, the $17.4 million fire budget sets aside additional funds to replace rescue equipment and maintain services like the smoke detector installation program for senior residents and fire safety lessons for third-graders.

The budget also proposes allocating $220,000,484 to the Board of Education — a 4.68 percent increase over last year — compared to the school board’s proposed budget of $221,500,484. 

In his State of the Town Address, Gerber pointed to the school board as a key budget driver for the town given the new teacher contract. In total, the school board accounts for about 59 percent of the proposed town budget.

According to the town’s budget timeline, the Board of Selectmen is set to adjust the document in March. The Board of Finance will likely hold budget hearings in March and April before sending it to the Representative Town Meeting. The legislative body will then hear any appeals and vote on the budget on May 6.