WILTON, Conn. – Police and library officials kept their budget requests to the Board of Selectmen as “low as possible” Tuesday during the town’s first 2012-13 budget presentations in Town Hall.
The Police Department wants to buy a half-dozen new police cars and equipment for $140,000; hire an officer for $80,000 a year to bring staffing to the full 44 officers; and budget $325,000 for overtime.
“With the two major storms, being down an officer and having a big increase in domestic violence calls, we have been hard-pressed to keep overtime from going even higher,” said Police Chief Michael Lombardo. A total of $279,000 was budgeted for overtime in the current fiscal year. But officials estimate the total will end up at about $355,000 by June 30, the end of the fiscal year.
Lombardo said the department is seeking an overall 2.4 percent increase above the current year’s nearly $6.8 million operating budget, as well as capital improvements totaling $190,000 – an increase of about $30,000.
“We are adding a police officer so we are at full strength. That will curtail even more overtime, but we still need overtime to ensure we are providing public safety to keep up with an increase in patrol calls,” he said. Domestic violence calls alone have nearly doubled in the past few years, Lombardo said. He also said the department is trying to regionalize its dispatch unit but said bringing towns together is difficult.
Wilton Library's Executive Director Kathy Leeds, who is retiring this summer after 12 years in the post, made a tearful and passionate appeal for a “modest” 3.1 percent budget increase. Some of that would pay for a 2.5 percent salary hike for 44 employees who haven’t had a raise in several years, she said.
The town provides 75 percent of the library’s total operating budget of $2.7 million. The Wilton Library Association’s annual fundraising drive, sales of books and DVD, fees and fines provides the other 25 percent.
“We continue to see robust usage. The library is not only the go-to recession haven, but also a cooling and warming center, and a place to recharge both figuratively and literally when power is scarce,” Leeds told the selectmen. “The recent storms that brought us between 10,000 and 12,000 visitors each week cost (about) $8,500 – primarily for electricity to keep everyone powered up and cooled or warmed.”
A teary-eyed Leeds said, “The library has become so much more than just a place to borrow books. It truly is the heart of our community and to serve community needs. The scope of those needs continue to grow, and we welcome the expanded role.”
First Selectman William Brennan said department heads have worked for months on budget preparation to keep increases to a minimum. "Balancing the needs of our community with the need to keep the budget as low as possible seems to get more difficult every year," Brennan said.