Selectmen talk efficiency, target added headcount

Personnel, benefits, headcount, modernization, computers, efficiency …

The total town and school workforce is down one position in just under a decade — from 929.3 positions in 2008 to 928.3 in 2017, First Selectman Rudy Marconi told fellow selectmen Tuesday, Feb. 6.

Still, with requests for six new full-time workers — two police officers, four in the highway department — and part-time position increases in four other departments, the selectmen are targeting efficiency and personnel in their budget talks.

“The state of Connecticut got in trouble because of pensions and benefits and personnel,” Selectman Steve Zemo said. “We don’t want the town of Ridgefield to say in five years, ‘Oh, my God, look at these pensions!’”

All the new positions requested were among some $1 million in cuts Marconi and Controller Kevin Redmond made in going through department requests — and accounted for more than half the $1,062,000 total of the reductions.

The reductions, made before the budget was presented to the Board of Selectmen, brought the proposed spending increase for town departments — excluding the schools — down to 2.37%. Together, with school Superintendent Karen Baldwin’s proposal for a 4.83% school spending increase and anticipated reductions in revenue from the state, the proposed budget would require a tax increase that Redmond revised upward, from 4.05% to 4.7%, Tuesday night.

Of course, that’s before potential cutting by the Board of Selectmen, Board of Education and Board of Finance. It’s also without any potential use of money drawn from the town’s roughly $14-million “fund balance” — a kind of buildup of past years’ surpluses that serves a little like a savings account. The current year’s 2017-18 budget pulls $1.8 million from the fund balance, and uses it as non-tax revenue, to hold down the tax rate.

But “use of fund balance” is a finance board decision, and when the selectmen review the budget they don’t make any assumptions about it — the number penciled in is zero. And with the state’s continuing budget difficulties, finance board members have said they’re more inclined to keep a little more money in the fund balance — which they try to keep at between 8% and 9% of the annual town and school budget, which totals $128 million for 2017-18.

The selectmen decided Tuesday night to plan an executive session discussion with Personnel Director Laurie Fernandez on Thursday night, Feb. 8, to examine efficiency and personnel needs.

“I’d asked Rudy to have more of a discussion on personnel,” said Selectwoman Maureen Kozlark.

“We almost need a management chart,” said Zemo.

“I think we need to have that discussion,” said Selectman Bob Hebert.

It was as part of that conversation that Marconi read out the figures for the change in personnel total from 2008 to 2017 — figures he got from the auditor’s report.

This week’s selectmen’s budget meetings are preparatory for a series of budget decision sessions they plan for the first week of March.

The meetings gave department heads a chance to defend their budget proposals — including the new personnel requests.

Zemo said he was surprised to learn how much the cost of a request to change an office worker from half-time to full-time would be increased due to the added benefits costs — mostly health insurance — that are due to full-time, but not-part time, workers.

“We were talking to the planning people. I’m thinking it’s $8,500,” Zemo said, “and you hear it’s $25,000 for benefits.”