Town Budget Aims to Catch Up

The Selectmen in January. Weston Today photo

Budgets recommended by First Selectwoman Samantha Nestor for Town operations and capital projects were designed, she said, to catch up on staffing needs and remediation of deteriorating public facilities.

By a 2–1 vote on February 26, the Selectmen voted to send the proposed budgets on to the Board of Finance. Dissenting was Selectman Kerem Dinlenc, who argued for putting off some of the catching up. Selectman Tony Pesco, voting aye, said “we shouldn’t defer just to defer.”

The Board of Finance begins its budget reviews on March 6, starting with the Board of Education request. All told, operating and capital budgets now advanced by the Town and school board amount to total spending that rises about 1½ percent, taking advantage of a $2 million reduction in debt service from the maturation of bonds issued 20 years ago.

The massive rise of the Grand List and a significantly lower mill rate — a figure that still must accommodate final budgets — will make the conversation all the more interesting.

Town operations

The Town operating budget calls for an increase of about 4½ percent, driven in part by the usual contractual pay raises and ever-rising costs for medical insurance and retirement benefits. In addition, the budget proposes adding two staff positions: a human resources director and a facilities manager.

The budget also takes a step toward preparing for a potential staff crisis at the Weston Police Department. Funds are allocated (without specifically adding headcount) to get a jump on replacing, in all likelihood, at least one retiring officer. More may follow.

Chief Ed Henion and members of the Police Commission worry that a change to police benefits will induce as many as five eligible officers to retire. The change involves the elimination of a minimum cost of living increase for newly retired officers. It goes into effect next year; officers who leave before that happens retain the benefit.

The worry is that it will be difficult to replace retired officers, as the candidate pool has shrunk in recent years and towns compete for scarce talent resources. Weston typically hires experienced, certified police officers, which may be in short supply. Chief Henion noted that hiring a rookie officer comes at great expense for training, both in terms of cost and time.

Capital ideas

The First Selectwoman’s proposed catch-up is most ambitious in capital projects, with investments totaling nearly $3.3 million.

Leading the list is a $606,000 plan to replace the Town Hall Annex, the modular unit installed as a temporary facility going on three decades ago. Once used as classrooms and known as “Kinderland,” in more recent years the trailer has been the base of operations for several public-facing Town functions. Problems appear to be age related, including a leaky roof, collapsing stairs, and sagging floors.

Also on the capital docket is the remaining half needed to replace Fire Engine No. 7, $554,000. The first half was allocated in a draw from reserves on January 30. Other items include replacing several aging pieces of Public Works equipment, half of the Town’s obligation for the proposed Phase 3 of sidewalks construction, and engineering services for a number of capital projects already moving forward.


Road paving comes out of the operating budget this year, a change that allows some to insist that the Town’s increase is larger than it appears. But the actual figures are the only relevant ones.

None is more relevant and impactful than the proposed ambitious catch-up on road paving.

The Town’s capital budget proposal includes allocating $4.6 million in each of two years, a figure that does not appear in the total because it is offset by the expectation it would be funded by short-term bond anticipation notes.

That may or may not ultimately be the approach taken, assuming the project proceeds at all. The Board of Finance could leave some of it in the capital budget, draw some from reserves, or do both.

One outcome from a disputatious February 8 Board of Finance briefing on the project was a decision on February 22 to allocate $27,250 to have engineers from BETA perform another full body scan of all Weston public roads. That will be done in the next few weeks.

The first such scan, performed four years ago, informed a master paving plan that apparently wasn’t followed with precision in terms of annual funding or work on specific roads. At the briefing, there were differing recollections of what the plan was to begin with.

Since taking the helm last June, Public Works Director Larry Roberts and his crews have performed boots-on-the-ground road inspections, particularly noting problem areas of those that are otherwise in decent shape.

The Boards of Selectmen and Finance meet jointly on March 11 to dive more deeply into the matter.

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