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Lawmakers Cut $850K From Fairfield's Safety Net

FAIRFIELD, Conn. – “Financial suicide.” “Fiscally irresponsible.” Those were the reactions of Chief Fiscal Officer Paul Hiller and Board of Finance Chairman Thomas Flynn on the decision to trim Fairfield’s contingency fund for the next year.

The Representative Town Meeting carried through with an $850,000 cut to the account in its 2012-13 budget vote Tuesday night. The reduction was the only major cut proposed by Fairfield’s Republicans on Tuesday night, after calling for a 2 percent department-by-department cut last week to save taxpayer money.

“We decided to take a more global approach than the line-item cuts that we discussed,” said Deputy Majority Leader Joseph Palmer, R-4.

The vote leaves Fairfield with $238,517 in its contingency for the next fiscal year. The fund acts as Fairfield’s safety net in case departments go over budget. The money would be used to pay for unforeseen events, such as cleanup from a major hurricane or winter storm.

It would also go toward salaries and benefits for the town’s workers after contract negotiations. Fairfield has five unions with expired contracts that are working out new deals with the government. The firefighters union contract , for example, cost the town an extra $561,000 when it was approved in February.

“We’re going to be sitting here four to six months from now, and the Board of Selectmen and the Board of Finance are going to ask us to move money back out of the surplus to pay for the money that we took out now,” said Minority Leader Hal Schwartz, D-7. “It’s a bad decision.”

Hiller and Flynn said the decision would affect Fairfield’s top-level Aaa bong rating, which was upheld by Moody’s last week. The bond rating agency had previously placed the town on a “negative outlook” in part because of a low balance in its general fund balance, or its reserve account.

But Hiller said Fairfield still ranks 17th out of 18 Aaa-rated town in Connecticut in reserve money.

“I think the risk is too great,” Flynn said. “I believe, given where we are, given the credit reports that I read, that it would be fiscally irresponsible.”

Majority Leader David Becker, R-1, pointed out that Fairfield is on pace to finish with a surplus of about $1.5 million when the fiscal year ends June 30. The town also posted a $1.6 million surplus the year before and had $2.1 million left after the 2010 fiscal year. He called on First Selectman Michael Tetreau to find savings throughout the year in the same way.

“When you do that, you don’t end up in a position of what was called ‘fiscal suicide,’” Becker said.

The only other change the RTM made Tuesday night was to restore the $27,801 cut from the H. Smith Richardson Golf Course on Monday night. The legislators left the $250,000 cut to Fairfield’s school system intact.

Fairfield’s final budget for July 1, 2012, to June 30, 2013, is nearly $272.3 million after the RTM’s final vote Tuesday night. That marks a 3.5 percent increase from the current year. The Board of Finance will meet Wednesday night to set Fairfield’s tax rate for the next year.

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