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Fairfield Reps Pitch Cuts to All Departments

FAIRFIELD, Conn. – The leader of every department in Fairfield will need to plead his or her case to preserve its funding next week. Each would face a 2 percent budget cut for next year, if the Representative Town Meeting follows through with a plan proposed by Majority Leader David Becker.

“This is what austerity looks like. It is painful. It is strong,” Becker said. “But we’re looking at significant increases that are pushing people out of this town, and something needs to be done.”

Becker and other Republican RTM leaders pitched a 2 percent cut across the board at the group’s first budget session Monday night. The largest individual cut would come from Fairfield’s school system, which would receive $2.9 million less than planned it the cuts went through. Fairfield’s Police, Fire and Public Works departments would face cuts of $300,000 each.

The lawmakers could not say exactly what would be trimmed from each department’s spending if the plan went through. Becker’s proposal called for each department head to make that decision. But Town Attorney Stanton Lesser said Monday the RTM would have to outline specific cuts by its final vote.

“If you do anything other than cut by line items, I think you wind up with chaos, because you don’t know how the reallocations are made,” Lesser said.

Several RTM members said the planned cuts are trims to each department’s request, not necessarily the total funding. For example, the Board of Education’s funding would still go up by about $500,000 from the current year to next.

Many departments also increased their spending plans because of contractual obligations to staff members. Some departments, however, turned in requests lower than their 2011-12 budgets and now face even steeper cuts. The Police Department, for example, turned in a request that was 0.5 percent less than it received this year.

“That is a cut. It is not an increase, as some people are saying,” said Rep. Marc Patten. “We’ve just got to pick and choose our battles.”

Voters at Monday’s meeting were split on the RTM’s proposal. Many, such as Harbor Road resident John Levinson, said the cuts did not go deep enough, wanting tax rates to stay the same. Even with the cuts, Fairfield’s property taxes would still go up by about 2.9 percent this summer.

“I think we have to start to roll back spending, because we’re spending beyond our means,” Levinson said.

A group of PTA parents, however, asked the RTM to keep the school system’s request intact. They reminded the legislators that the Board of Education asked for its smallest funding increase in decades, despite increasing enrollment.

“I understand the economy is bad. I completely understand that,” said Suzanne Miska, a Ryegate Road resident. “But these cuts, as random as they are, I just don’t think they’re fair.”

The Representative Town Meeting will make its final decision at its meeting May 7.

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