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Selectmen Pass $42.7M Budget, Cut $589,000

In passing the town budget (not including the education budget), selectmen cut very little before handing it on to the Board of Finance and Representative Town Meeting.

Selectmen unanimously voted Tuesday to support a $42,660,669 operating budget for the 2013-2014 fiscal year, making relatively few changes the budget proposed to them.

The board also passed budgets for the sewer, parking and reserve funds, totaling $7,793,604.

Last year's budget for town operating and capital spending was $40,250,354. Town Administrator Karl Kilduff's initial proposed budget was $43,125,586.

"Any time you have to increase a budget, it's not a good message to give to taxpayers who are struggling," First Selectman Jayme Stevenson said. Nevertheless, she said, most taxpayers seem to be more interested in increased services, evein if it involves some raising of the mill rate.

"Service expectations have increased," she said, particularly with demands for better services at town beaches and the transfer station (the town dump).

Selectmen cut just $27,512 from the operating budget and $561,427 from the capital budgets, a total of $588,939 in spending cuts.

A total of $120,000 of the cuts in capital spending represents money for sidewalks that may be approved later for spending in the 2013-2014 fiscal year, after the board sets in place an evaluation process for sidewalk proposals.

In capital spending proposals, selectmen cut $300,000 for improvements to the Center Street North parking lot and $122,000 for improvements to Hollohan Field behind Town Hall.

A total of $75,000 was added to the budget for paving at the Leroy West parking lot. First Selectman Jayme Stevenson said she supported that additional spending because commuters who pay for parking at the lot "should see some benefit from the fees that they pay."

In the operating budget, $100,000 for professional services for the Department of Public Works was cut, but the grant to Darien Library was increased by $52,740. Library administrators, in their proposed budget, had estimated lower increases in health insurance costs than town officials estimated.

Selectman David Bayne, a Democrat, said he had a "sense of depression and frustration" with the budget process because so much of the spending was locked in by insurance and utility costs as well as by town labor union contracts that already set how much the town would have to pay in operating costs.

"We seem to be losing control over our budget," Bayne said, because the only alternative to spending more would be layoffs and cutting town services.

Selectman John Lundeen, also a Democrat, said the "general sense of the people" in Darien has been "that we have to be very, very cautious" with town spending.

"We do hear that," said Stevenson, a Republican, "but we don't hear the corresponding willingness to cut services."

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