Trickle-down effect: State budget struggle creates hiring freeze in Ridgefield

What’s the worst that could happen to Ridgefield if a state budget doesn’t get approved?

According to First Selectman Rudy Marconi, not that much.

“The bad news is that Ridgefield doesn’t get a lot of money from the state of Connecticut; the good news is that Ridgefield doesn’t get a lot of money from the state of Connecticut,” he told The Press Tuesday, July 11.

It’s not unheard of for a budget not to get approved during a whole fiscal year.

It happened in 2009 under Governor Jodi Rell.

So, while deliberations continue in Hartford, Ridgefield is down $590,000 in expected state funding.

“This, in essence, brings us down to zero [in state funding],” said Marconi.

The first selectman said that two areas of the town’s 2017-18 budget are now on hold.

“One is the MRSF [Municipal Revenue Sharing Fund], which is part of a bond package that legislature puts together every year — that one there is about $561,000,” he said.

“The second is Town Aid Road (TAR) money — and that also is money that comes from the bond commission that helps all communities in the state with their annual paving projects or any other use involving roads. That number is $347,000.”

Hiring freeze

Marconi said that to compensate for the difference, the town has already made some cuts.

“What we have done is to put into effect a hiring freeze,” he said. “Any vacancies that exist as of the beginning of July or are anticipated to take place — those vacancies will not be fulfilled unless it’s an emergency.

“That will account for $327,000, if we were to carry that plan through to the end of the fiscal year,” the first selectmen said. “We would also reduce the amount of paving for this year approximately by $250,000.”

The gorilla

State funding isn’t worrying Marconi as much what might happen with teachers pensions.

“The 800-pound gorilla in the room remains whether the legislature, in their deliberations, were to pass the teacher’s retirement pension onto the municipalities,” he said.

With Gov. Dannel Malloy’s proposal, Ridgefield would be responsible for $4.4 million, according to the first selectmen.

The future tax increase could create a heavy burden.

“We have looked at different possibilities in terms of funding that first year, but subsequently it would need to be added into the budget,” Marconi said. “And, from a preliminary look at that, it would yield — in the 2019 fiscal year — approximately a 6 to 7% increase in taxes.”