Selectmen look to eliminate or consolidate town positions

Town employee positions will fall under scrutiny — and maybe the budget axe — as the selectmen seek to hold down town spending in the coming 2017-18 budget.

A focus on “positions we can eliminate” was raised by Selectmen Bob Hebert at the board’s first budget meeting Monday night.

“Looking at positions,” Hebert said to First Selectman Rudy Marconi, “the ones we could either eliminate or consolidate.”

Excluding school employees, the town’s basic work force is currently 188 full-time and 47 part-time positions. There are another 208 “on call or seasonal” workers who periodically work some hours — people who serve some hours as lifeguards, people who provide babysitting while parents are taking classes at the recreation center.

Hebert felt the selectmen should closely review all positions.

“I think we should take a look at that,” he said as the selectmen began their budget work. “That could be a big number.”

Marconi was open to the idea.

“There are certainly things we can do in a couple of different areas,” he said. “There’s nothing wrong with letting people know we’re at a point where we’re looking at it.”

It’s a tough budget year, because of both a 2.5% spending cap imposed on municipalities by a new state law and other measures the state can be expected to take to address its own budget problems — such as reducing programs that send state money to towns and cities, or getting town and cities to share state costs.

Facing a $3-billion deficit over the next two years, Gov. Dannel Malloy has announced that he’ll try to get towns to share the state’s cost for teacher pensions, which are currently paid for by the state. He wants to shift a third of the state’s teacher pension costs — $407 million — onto towns and cities.

Ridgefield schools have a more than $46-million payroll for “certified staff” — those with teaching certificates, which is mostly teachers but also includes administrators — and certified salaries project to over $47 million next year. The state’s pension contribution on behalf of Ridgefield would be about $13 million next year. Taking on a third of that would mean a more than $4-million bump in the town’s budget.

Another change the governor is promising to pursue with the legislature is to rework the Educational Cost Sharing (ECS) formula to provide “greater equity” between rich and poor municipalities — less for towns like Ridgefield, most likely.

The ECS revenue for Ridgefield was projected about $572,000 in the initial version of this year’s budget. It’s been about $2 million each of the last three years. Town officials are anticipating a further reduction.

Marconi received an analysis of the impact of the governor’s budget on Ridgefield, showing a net loss of over $2,372,000, with a $4.4-million new cost for the teachers’ pension contribution and loss of the $572,000 in educational cost sharing somewhat offset by increases in other areas, including $532,000 in new state help for special education.

While Malloy has proposed eliminating the 2.5% spending cap as part of a “mandate relief” initiative, Marconi told the selectmen they should still plan on meeting that cap.

Marconi said state Rep. John Frey had told Assessor Al Garzi: “Don’t expect that 2.5% to go away this year.”

Near the end of the selectmen’s second budget session Tuesday night, Marconi said he’d asked Human Resources Director Laurie Fernandez to review town staffing with an eye to saving money.

Could there be savings through “attrition” with people who retire not being replaced?

“I’ve asked her to look at all departments from an attrition and efficiency perspective,” Marconi said.

“I think we should look attrition, consolidation, efficiencies,” Hebert said, “bringing our staffing into the 21st Century.”