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Finance Board Trims $310K From Westport Budget

WESTPORT, Conn. – The decision to approve a new town budget that’s about $310,000 less than proposed by First Selectman Gordon Joseloff was not endorsed by all members of the Board of Finance on Wednesday night.

In a 5-2 vote, the board approved a $73,489,817 budget for the 2012-13 fiscal year, which begins July 1. That’s $309,609 less than originally sought. Board members Brian Stern and Helen Garten, the dissenting voters, said their disapproval is not of the actual budget. Instead, they said they were disappointed that this budget does nothing to change the way business is done in Westport.

“What I am against here is the fact that this time next year, if we follow this budget, we will be in exactly the same position with no structural change,” Stern said. “The budget is our opportunity to make decisions to make changes, and quite frankly, after last night’s debate, I’m even more convinced that the desire and willingness to change in a significant way is just not there.”

In an effort to effect change, Stern on Tuesday night suggested the board reduce the $5.2 million general government budget by 5 percent, or $125,000. To do this, he recommended that departments with similar functions, such as the tax collector’s and tax assessor’s offices, and the planning and zoning and conservation departments, consolidate services.

His motion failed in a 6-1 vote.

The $309,000 reduced from the budget includes cuts to the transit district, public works and fire department budgets.

On Tuesday night, the first of three special budget hearings held this week, the board unanimously approved cutting the transit district budget by $113,753. That’s about half of the $248,000 the transit district was seeking. If this cut sticks, all commuter shuttles, except morning and evening rides to and from the Imperial Avenue parking lot and the Saugatuck Railroad Station, would be eliminated.

The public works budget was reduced by $130,000 to $8.9 million. Of that, $40,000 will be cut from road maintenance. Even with the reduction, the public works budget represents an 8 percent increase over the current year and the department will have about $730,000 more for road-paving projects.

The fire department budget was cut by $65,856 based on the recommendation of Fire Chief Andrew Kingsbury.

The board will review and vote on the Board of Education budget Thursday at 7:30 p.m.

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