Budget Season Opens
At our last Finance Committee meeting we were handed a 300+ page document, containing the town-side budget. A week later, at the RTM meeting, we got its companion volume, the similarly-sized Board of Ed budget, which came with its very own multi-page supplement. The supplement answers questions raised by the Board of Selectmen and the Board of Finance. Armed with something like 700 pages of arcane information, we were then handed the budget hearing agenda.
And so the season begins.
In Fairfield, the Boards of Selectman and Finance hold joint hearings throughout March, examining each departmental budget plus Capital and Supplemental requests. Department heads, like tag team wrestlers, take turns in the spotlight, poised to answer whatever was on the inquisitors’ minds.
When the budget finally gets to the RTM for approval, all we can do is make cuts, add nothing and cross our fingers the process has worked. To prep for this last step, the RTM attends the sessions. Wisely, each committee asks its members to cover various nights of the hearings rather than ask all 50 of us to attend all the meetings.
Yesterday was opening night. I was warned at Monday’s RTM meeting to bring caffeine, an iPod, and a magazine since these tend to drag on and get tedious. I arrived with budget books, a magazine and a cup of coffee, deciding the iPod was really a gag. About a dozen RTM members from the various committees were in attendance and maybe one member of the public and one member of the press.
Ya gotta love town involvement in the process.
Sure enough, the department heads sat before the combined Board and took questions. However, some speak in monotones and the AV system was turned too low so most of what got said was lost. We got the gist of it, I think.
You could tell immediately what the various interests were. One Finance member continued to nail people on grant requests and their subsequent tracking or the perceived problems with infrastructure maintenance. Actually, the most interest part of the night was when the head of Public Works indicated we’re seriously behind on road paving and repair. We should be paving about 13 miles of town each year but average only about half that and he has a high priority list of roads in need of serious work that totals nearly $2 million. Well, they jumped all over that with our First Selectman somewhat on the defensive. It certainly got our attention.
The rest of the night whipped right along, starting about 7:15 and ending close to 10:30. I wound up asking one question, sounding intelligent enough, and got a good answer so I was satisfied.
I don’t envy those who spend the month with the Fairfield version of March Madness and am scheduled for at least 1-2 meetings myself. It’s a tight, tough budget with little wriggle room but it’s also a necessary process to make sure we have what we need to operate without costing the taxpayer too much extra.