Ridgefield budget will be ‘worse than 2008’ Marconi says

First Selectman Rudy Marconi in front of Ridgefield's Venus Municipal Building.

First Selectman Rudy Marconi in front of Ridgefield's Venus Municipal Building.

Macklin Reid

“We’re in for some tough sledding, here,” First Selectman Rudy Marconi told the Ridgefield Board of Education’s virtual meeting on Wednesday night, March 25.

“Budget, the governor’s executive order has allowed municipalities to recall budgets, which Ridgefield is doing. Votes we took are going to be rescinded.”

A virtual Board of Selectmen’s meeting is planned for Wednesday, April 1, to deal with budget issues.

“In accordance with the Governor’s Executive Order 7B, the in-person open meeting requirements for a public agency have been suspended,” Marconi’s office said in a release. “As a result, the Board of Selectmen will conduct a public meeting remotely using video/audio conference technology in real time.”

To join the Zoom meeting enter this link into your browser: www.zoom.us/join

Or call into the meeting by dialing: 929-205-6099

This Meeting ID will be needed: 296 298 776

Marconi told the school board he will ask the selectmen, under the authority granted by the governor’s executive order, to authorize the Board of Finance to pass a budget and set a tax rate for the coming 2020-21 fiscal year, which starts July 1.

The normal budget procedures — with their democratic principle of each registered voter in town getting to vote ‘yes’ or ‘no’ on a budget and capital budget, after debate — are called off.

“The public hearing, Annual Town Meeting and referendum are canceled. There will be none this year, as per the governor’s order,” Marconi said.

Marconi said the town boards making decisions will be available for voters to watch through a variety of mediums.

“We’ll be doing livestream, Comcast (cable TV), Zoom, call-in number — we want to make this as transparent as we possibly can.”

Live-streamed meetings are also archived, for later viewing by residents.

“I need to say very seriously: This is going to be an especially tough, tough budget cycle,” Marconi said. “We’re looking at a decline in revenue. There’s nothing but bad news. It’s going to be reflected in what the Board of Selectmen votes on and does recommend to the Board of Finance.

“I know we're going to be looking at a zero increase to the taxpayer. How we get there is what we have to work on,” he said.

The selectmen had been working to get the combined town and school budget down into the area of 1.2 to 1.5 percent increase, Marconi said, but they may have to be rethought.

The extraordinary financial practices may extend to amending the current 2019-20 budget, as well. The town has a surplus fund balance in the vicinity of $14 million. But the annual town and school budget is in the vicinity of $140 million — ten times the surplus that’s saved up and functions as a kind of informal rainy day fund.

“There’s nothing to say you can’t ask the Board of Finance for reconsideration,” Marconi said.

He said he had gotten legal opinions concerning that possibility.

He recalled that in the wake of the 2008 market crash and accompanying recession, voters had rejected every item in the town budget except the question for money to repair roads — always the most popular question on the annual budget referendum.

“The feeling is this is much worse than 2008,” Marconi said.

The school board — which accounts for over $100 million of the annual $140 million budget — was understanding.

“Obviously, that’s not the news we were hoping to hear, but we understand,” said School Board chairwoman Margaret Stamatis. “Thank you so much for your leadership of the town the past couple of weeks.”