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Westport Takes Ax to Town Budgets

UPDATED 1:45 p.m.: The proposed budgets for the town of Westport's Finance and Information Technology Departments were cut Tuesday night despite pleas from Westport Finance Director John Kondub, First Selectman Gordon Joseloff and others.

The rationale behind reducing those budgets was a consolidation of services between the town and schools, something board member Avi Kaner said he wanted to see happen years ago.

"I'm convinced the focus now must shift to efficiencies, consolidations and improvements, instead of just slashing across the board," Kaner said. "For years, we've spoken about consolidating resources between the schools and town. We've said it, but we haven't done it. I'd like to force the issue of consolidation this year."

Board member Brian Stern also pushed for the consolidation, which is why he originally proposed cutting $50,000 from the finance budget salary line. His idea was that the town and school could merge payroll and accounts payable into one department. Kaner agreed, but proposed $150,000 be cut from the finance department salary line.

"There no difference between accounts payable checks made by the town and from the school," Kaner said. "There's no reason we should have two different departments."

The board eventually agreed, in a 5-2 vote, to cut $75,000 from the finance department. Similarly, the board voted to cut a total of $75,000 from the information technology budget, saying there was room for consolidation between the schools and town.

Eileen Zhang, director of the Information Technology Department, said cutting $75,000 from the budget was "not very responsible." Joseloff agreed, saying the board's approach was "well-intended, but naïve."

"You have not done analysis of this. You're just taking a meat clever and an ax, when it requires careful analysis," Joseloff said.

Although there was bad news for some, major departments, such as police and fire, fared better at the budget review. Neither department's proposed budgets were cut. The proposed Public Works budget was also approved, although Stern wanted to add an additional $175,000 for road maintenance, a motion that failed in a 2-5 vote.

The finance board will meet again Wednesday night to discuss the remaining municipal budgets, beginning with Parks and Recreation. On Thursday, the Board of Education budget will be discussed.

What do you think of the changes made by Board of Finance? Do you think forcing consolidation between the town and schools is the solution? Please leave a comment below!

(*This story was updated from a brief version to include more details.)

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