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Brookfield finance board proposes $77.7M budget in 'era of fiscal fragility' – Danbury News Times

BROOKFIELD — Her first months in office brought a first-ever budget cycle for newcomer First Selectwoman Tara Carr.

“I think I survived,” Carr said Friday, following the finance board’s unanimous approval of a $77.7 million proposal that will go to a public hearing at the end of the month. “We are not done yet.”

“There was a lot of hard work that was put into it. Right out of the gate, I had to start making some tough decisions and some tough cuts and I just decided straight out of the gate I wanted to put the town on the glide path to financial recovery,” she added.

A copy of the proposed Board of Selectmen budget shows a 3.87 percent increase over last year’s spending, with several major changes reflecting Carr’s priorities to tackle the town’s debt and shape its financial future.

This would reflect a 3.15 percent increase in the tax rate, with the town coming off of a revaluation of property values last year that may affect residents’ tax bills.

One of the drivers of the budget is a 7.51 percent increase in debt service thanks to borrowing for the new Candlewood Lake Elementary School.

“We are in an era of fiscal fragility because of our debt,” Carr said.

To help mitigate short term-financial risk, the proposed budget includes a 22.34 percent increase to the town’s combined contingency cost reserve, along with a more than 53.53 percent increase in fuel cost allocations for public works.

It also makes major and notable cuts across its portfolio.

If approved in its current form, the town’s pension fund contribution would fall by $50,000, roughly a third of this year’s allocation. In the Department of Public Works, a combined $35,000 would be dropped for sand and salt and road maintenance line items, while tree removal expenditures would also go down 20 percent to $60,000.

The proposed budget estimates a 77.8 percent drop in tax litigation and a 20 percent decline in labor attorney costs, coupled with an increase in legal fees related to blight that would go from $1,500 to $15,000 next year.

On the town side, the spending increase is driven largely by wages and salaries, according to Carr.

“I went through it with a fine-tooth comb, there is no increase to salaries aside from the standard, 2.25 percent,” she said, adding that would apply to her own compensation.

For police, the proposal calls for increasing holiday wages by 10.13 percent, overtime wages by 10.03 percent and wages while training by 11.56 percent.

In a prior conversation, the first selectwoman listed factors behind her concerns over the town’s financial health, pointing primarily to the town’s debt burden, which she claimed is the “fourth worst in the state.”

Carr recognized the burden is largely unavoidable, in most cases, and includes debt accrued for the $80 million elementary school construction project, along with “debt from projects from decades ago.”

Upcoming projects, like the town’s overhaul 1986-era emergency communications system used by first responders, add to equation — one already complicated by widespread economic instability linked to inflation and rising costs.

“Inflation and coming out of COVID, there are just so many factors involved with trying to keep this budget reasonable and responsible,” Carr said. “Obviously, I inherited most of these things so just coming on board and only having three months and this being my first budget season it was really working with the Board of Selectmen to propose a good budget to the Board of Finance.”

The Board of Finance will hold a public hearing on the proposal at 7:30 p.m. March 29 at the high school’s auditorium.

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