Historical data show decade of responsible spending in Ridgefield

RIDGEFIELD — A study of local municipal budgets over the last 10 years suggests the town has spent and borrowed responsibly.

Board of Finance members Mike Rettger and Andrew Okrongly have developed a 10-page packet comprising of a series of graphs and supporting data from town budgets dating back to the 2011-12 fiscal year.

“(There’s) a fairly narrow focus during the annual budget process because you’re only looking at the year ahead,” Rettger said, “but what does (this data) tell us if we look at a longer time period?”

Rettger stressed that while the exhibit is not endorsed by the town or the Board of Finance, he believes fellow taxpayers might find value in it as officials formulate Ridgefield’s budget for fiscal year 2023.

“It shows a picture of a town that has done a really good job with its budgeting over the past 10 years,” he said of the exhibit. “It could be helpful to (understand) the budget conversations coming up over the next month.”

Rettger pointed out three notable trends that yielded from crunching the numbers.

The first trend is relative to overall tax impact. Ridgefield’s tax levy has run at almost exactly the same rate as the Consumer Price Index over the past 10 years, according to a graph that measures the cumulative growth of the total tax levy versus economic data.

The second trend is relative to debt service, which refers to the cost of interest and principal repayment on the town’s borrowings, Rettger said.

The cost of the debt service has been declining significantly every year with the exception of fiscal year 2017-2018, according to a graph that measures the net change in authorized borrowing by year. This is due to the effects of borrowing approved for the ongoing sewer plant project, the exhibit reads.

Additionally, Okrongly noted that the town is approaching the end of its borrowing on “the bundle,” a $90 million project that included significant renovations and enhancements to public school buildings and the reconstruction of the Parks & Recreation Center.

Since Ridgefield has been “effective” in paying off its debt, Rettger said, it positions officials to begin conversations about how to fund a brand-new public safety building for the police and fire departments in the coming years.

The third trend is relative to Ridgefield’s “rainy day” reserve.

The Board of Finance has an established policy to maintain this fund balance as roughly equal to 8-9 percent of the annual operating budget to protect against dramatic budget adjustments in the event of adverse economic situations — like a pandemic. It also has an informal goal of pushing budget surpluses into the next fiscal year to offset unnecessary tax increases, Rettger said.

“Both of those have been reasonably achieved over the years,” he added.

By maintaining the 8-9 percent target, Okrongly said, it lowers the costs of the town’s borrowing on future long-term capital investments. It is also “imperative” to keep Ridgefield’s Triple A credit rating intact.

Interested persons can email Rettger or Okrongly for a copy of the budget exhibit at mrettger@ridgefieldct.org or aokrongly@ridgefieldct.org.

alyssa.seidman@hearstmediact.com