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Westport Spending Plan Seeks Money for Roads

WESTPORT, Conn. – Road repairs may be responsible for the biggest spending increase by the town of Westport.

First Selectman Gordon Joseloff, together with department heads, presented the Board of Finance on Monday with an overall town budget of $188.5 million budget — a 2.4 percent increase over the current year.

That number combines both the overall proposed education budget of $114.5 million — $100 million of which is its operating budget — and the town’s proposed $73.9 million spending plan. If just the town portion of the overall budget is approved as is, it would represent a 3 percent increase over current year’s spending.

“I think this is a very responsible budget,” Joseloff told the Board of Finance. “It addresses the needs of Westport, and at the same time, recognizes the economic conditions we face.”

Joseloff was joined by Police Chief Dale Call, Fire Chief Andrew Kingsbury and Public Works Director Stephen Edwards, all of whom presented their departments' proposed spending plans.

Of the three departments, public works requested the largest increase with a proposed $9 million budget, a 9.3 percent increase over the current year. Edwards said that increase is largely due to a proposed $770,000 increase for overdue maintenance of the town’s 123 miles of roads.

“My secondary roads are really bad,” Edwards told the finance board. “Sure, I can let them deteriorate, but the cost for repair goes up more once you lose the surface.”

Although a 9 percent increase seems high, Edwards said it would make up for the past few years in which his department cut back on paving. The town’s roadway are rated based on their condition, and that rating is now lower than he’d like it to be, Edwards said.

“Even with the $770,000 increase, I’m still about $300,000 short of what I had in 2009,” he said. “But I’ll take it and run. Essentially, this will get my head above water.”

Board of Finance Chairman Avi Kaner agreed with Edwards that it was time to catch up on road maintenance.

In contrast to the public works department, the police department is seeking the lowest increase, with a proposed budget of $7.6 million. This represents a 0.1 percent increase over the current year.

“We’re probably as lean as we can be without having a severe impact on what we do,” Call said. “We looked at what we need to do the job, versus what to cut. And we know we need cars and computers.”

According to Call, the department needs to replace six of its cruisers, which is about half of the department’s fleet, he said. As requested a few years back, Call said the department has a three-year cycle for its cars. The six older cars will be finishing the third year this year, he said, and are pushing 80,000 miles. By the end of the year, they’ll be at about 100,000 miles, he said.

For the six cars, the department is requesting $175,000. The department is also requesting $10,000 to replace five computer workstations.

Compared to the police budget, the fire department is seeking a 2.3 percent increase with a proposed budget of $8.2 million. Kingsbury said part of the increase is due to an increase in contracts. The department’s 73 full-time employees are currently in the last year of a four-year contract that includes a 2.5 percent wage increase for the 2012-13 fiscal year.

Also, increased fuel costs have driven up expenses, Kingsbury said.

The Board of Finance will continue hearing departmental budget requests Tuesday and Wednesday. No votes will be taken.

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