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Police, Fire Pitch Flat Spending in Westport

Westport Fire Chief Christopher Ackley says the tiny increase in spending he proposes for his department next year is just enough to keep it operating at the same level it has in previous years. The proposed 2011-2012 budget — which Ackley presented to the Board of Finance Monday — is set at $9.1 million: that's an increase of just .9 percent. For this current fiscal year, the fire department budget is $9 million.

"Frankly, I'm a little concerned with how we're going to end up, but the message (to come in with a flat budget) was clear and I think we've delivered fairly well," Ackley told the board. "Not to my comfort level, but I hope to yours."

Coming in with such a tight budget meant making a lot of cuts. “We've made major reductions in virtually all of our accounts, with the exception of very few which we thought were necessary," Ackley said.

Like Ackley, Police Chief Al Fiore presented a very lean budget. Currently, the police department is requesting $9.2 million for the 2011-2012 year, an increase of only .09 percent over the current year.

Fiore told members of the finance board that this number is as low as the department could go. And in order to accomplish that, Fiore said reductions were made, including cutbacks to overtime.

"We didn't build in any fat or fluff, so if this (number) gets cut, services will suffer," Fiore said.

Although reductions were made, the department wants to spend more on computers. Its police cars need new computers, known as “mobile data terminals.”

"They are rather old now," Fiore said. "They were slated to be replaced in 2008, but we've deferred that. None have been replaced. Instead, we've extended the warranty on them and each year, the warranty gets more costly."

While the police and fire proposed slight increases, the Department of Public Works ' proposed budget of $8.25 million is .04 percent less than the current year.

For Director Stephen Edwards, this is a problem. "I was told to come in with a flat budget," Edwards said. "In my professional opinion, this is not responsive to the town's needs."

Currently, the requested town budget for the 2011-2012 year, which includes the Board of Education budgets, is $179 million: that's a 2.42 percent increase over current spending. Budget presentations from other town departments will continue on Tuesday and Wednesday nights.

What do you think of each department's requested budgets for 2011-2012?

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