Annual Town Meeting passes budget to referendum, rejects reduced school spending

Budget work was done by an Annual Town Meeting — accomplished as recommended by the finance board and other town elected officials — Monday night, May 7. The meeting rejected several motions to reduce various line items, including three motions to lower spending in the school budget, that were voted down by the 100 or more voters gathered Monday night in East Ridge Middle School auditorium.

“Does anyone think that if we paid the superintendent only $200,000 we would get less than what we received for our money the last three years?” asked veteran budget critic Ed Tyrell, in making a motion to reduce the school superintendent’s salary line from $233,303 to $200,000. “To put the superintendent’s salary in perspective, the current superintendent gets a salary that is $100,000 greater than Mr. Marconi’s salary (First Selectman Rudy Marconi). That makes no sense.”

Tyrell also offered motions to reduce salaries for three other school administrators by a total of $388,895, and to lower the health insurance line in a roughly $18-million allocation for the schools’ employee benefits by $300,000.

None of those motion passed, with votes along the lines of 90 to 10 against. The meeting also rejected Jan Rifkinson’s attempts to reduce expenditures on some trucks, as well as Tyrell’s argument not to go ahead with a $570,000 parking lot off of Governor Street.

With all the official presentations, as well as discussion and motions from the floor, the gathering in East Ridge Middle School took more than three hours to do its work. The meeting voted to send the 2018-19 town and school operating budgets — totaling over $144 million — to referendum, along with the more costly items in a more than $5 million capital spending plan. It also voted to actually approve proposed capital spending for 31 items items under $100,000 each, which totaled over $947,000.

The meeting approved sending to voters at the budget referendum next Tuesday, May 15, eight questions for approval or rejection, including the two operating budgets for 2018-19 and six questions on proposed capital expenditures. Next Tuesday’s referendum will vote on:

  1. $47.5 million for the 2018-19 town operating budget;
  2. $95 million for the school operating budget;
  3. $1,840,000 for roads and infrastructure, including $75,000 for work under the Americans with Disabilities Act;
  4. $1,350,000 for renovation of the Venus Building’s old RVNA wing to accommodate the Board of Education offices, allowing expansion of The Ridgefield Playhouse into current school offices;
  5. $570,000 for a 63-space parking lot north of the current parking lot off Governor Street, between the RVNA and the Boys and Girls Club;
  6. $508,000 for three expenditures: roof replacement on the Emergency Operations Center and preschool area at Yanity Gym ($120,000); roof replacement on the skydome building at the former Schlumberger property ($125,000); a study for improvements to the village storm drainage system ($113,000); and sidewalk improvements ($150,000) possibly to be reimbursed by the state;
  7. $886,301 to purchase two major vehicles, a pumper-tanker for the fire department ($690,000) and a Mack dump truck for the Highway Department ($196,301);
  8. $949,388 for five proposed school capital expenditures, including: an oil-tank replacement at Scotland Elementary School ($100,750); asbestos abatement at Scotland; replacement of the building systems automation at Scotts Ridge Middle School ($97,538); district-wide technology and facilities safety upgrades ($475,700); and replacement of a cooling tower at RIdgefield High School ($153,500).

The referendum is from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday, May 15, with all voting at Yanity Gymnasium off Prospect Street.