Residents can expect traffic enforcement around town to be more lax. The Representative Town Meeting decided last night, May 3, not to restore $73,370 to the Police Department budget. Police Chief Alfred Fiore warned the RTM that not giving the funds back to the department would result in a reduction in services from the police. Quite frankly, when I get the calls [from complaining residents] I am going to tell them I asked for the money, Fiore said to the RTM members before they cast their votes.
The RTM voted twice on requests to restore funds to the police budget and both attempts failed, 21 votes to 13. A vote to restore funds requires a 70 percent majority. The first vote was for the $73,370 that Fiore requested. A member of the RTM then put forth a motion to restore $40,000 to the police department with the same results.
Fiore said he will examine which non-essential police services, such as crossing guards, will be cut. The RTM denial means resources within the police department will have to be shuffled around so officers can staff emergency response and patrol routes. He said one of the primary complaints the department receives is a request for heavier traffic enforcement.
First Selectman Gordon Joseloff stated in the past that public safety was the Number One priority in his $1.23 million town budget restoration request to the RTM. When the police and fire chiefs tell you Westport will be less safe with these pay cuts, listen to them," said Joseloff. "They know what they are talking about.
The RTM also denied restoration of funds to the Conservation Department and the Tax Assessor. An attempt to give Conservation an additional $1,650 over the requested $30,000 failed. A second vote to restore just the $30,000 didn't fare any better.
The use of an outside firm and their technology package worked against Tax Assessor Paul Friia's request for $44,000 for department staffing. Vision Appraisal was contracted for the town's property revaluation process and their database is available online. Members of the RTM voiced opinions tht if Vision Appraisal was handling the revaluation, the tax assessor's department won't need as much staff. Friia argued that his department is responsible for making sure everyone in town pays their fair share of the taxes and he needs the staff to ensure efficiency.
Not every department presenting a request last night was denied. The RTM approved $5,500 for the town clerk's office to purchase the copy machine they use for public documents. The copier generates revenue for the department at $1 per page. The machine is nearing the end of its lease agreement and Town Clerk Patricia Strauss would like to purchase the machine instead of enter a new lease arrangement.
The Registrars of Voters were granted $18,500 back into their budget and an additional $18,000 in to the elections line item. The RTM deliberated for two hours on the registrar's budget restoration, the first and longest budget restoration debate of the evening.
Tonight, May 4, the RTM will vote on the education budget. Wednesday, May 5, they will convene to finish hearing individual department requests for budget restoration followed by a vote to accept the town budget. After the budgets are approved, the RTM will officially set the new mil rate on May 20.
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