Ridgefield cuts schools’ spending in budget approval process

Photo of Shayla Colon

RIDGEFIELD — The Ridgefield Board of Finance unanimously approved a 1.24 percent spending increase to the town’s budget during a special meeting this week, capping the total expenditure at slightly over $151 million.

Under this increase, Board of Finance Chairman David Ulmer said residents should expect to pay 0.32 percent more in taxes.

The Board of Selectmen originally proposed a 1.97 percent increase to its budget for a total of about $39.5 million, but after finalizing negotiations over health, worker's compensation and liability-auto-property insurances, it slighty decreased.

While the selectmen’s budget is staying “relatively the same,” Ulmer said the Board of Education will have to make cuts to its initial proposal. The Board of Finance approved a 2.35 percent increase for schools —- a 1.1 percent reduction from what they wanted, netting a $1.1 mllion cut from the proposal.

Susie Da Silva, superintendent of schools, said it’s “not a great situation but we’ll try our best.”

Ulmer and other board members voiced concerns over the increase in costs relative to a decline in enrollment, especially at the high school. He said schools have had approximately 120 fewer students, 57 of which were at the high school level.

According to Ulmer, the schools were able to save about $650,000 in health insurance expenses and an additional $350,000 in other insurance reductions, which led the Board of Finance to shave their budget down to 2.45 percent. The budget was trimmed to a 2.35 percent increase after further deliberations because board members thought they could “find more savings,” Ulmer said.

Da Silva said the school board is hoping to incur more savings from an unfinished negotiation regarding worker’s compensation insurance, but anticipates that even if the outcome is in their favor, about $200,000 will still need to be cut.

She said the school board slashed all of its COVID-19 expenses at the beginning of its process, making it an “already tight” budget.

“We’re disheartened that wasn’t considered, but ultimately our job is to protect programs for our kids, so we’ll keep working toward that,” she said.

“The budget process is not complete until it goes to the public, which could impact us even more,” she added.

In addition to approving the 1.24 percent increase for operating expenses, the Board of Finance approved approximately $5.1 million for capital improvements. The capital improvement plan outlines a slew of infrastructure projects, building and park repairs, as well as a down payment on the police department’s body camera system.

The community will vote for the budget on April 24 and the referendum is dated for May 11. Residents can vote in person or cast an absentee ballot before the voting date.