ATBM Resumes, Votes More Cuts

Weston Today photos

A somewhat smaller crowd returned to the Weston High School auditorium on Thursday evening to complete the Annual Town Budget Meeting, which had adjourned the night before at its Charter-mandated 11:30 time.

By the end, capital allocations totaling more than $1 million were voted off the island, on top of over $300,000 cut from the Town operating budget the night before.

That doesn’t mean these budgets will go into effect. Reduced as they are, they are still proposals. It is anyone’s guess how the rest of the town will respond to their impact on services and the town’s direction when they cast ballots in the Budget Referendum, a machine ballot vote.

That happens at Town Hall on Saturday, May 4 from noon to 8:00 pm. (Those attending the ATBM were able to cast referendum ballots when the meeting adjourned.)

If the amended budget proposals are voted down in the referendum, everything goes back to the Board of Finance, who must come up with a new proposal for another referendum, a proposal that could conceivably be lower, higher, or the same as what they offered in the first place. If a referendum cannot pass before July 1, existing budgets stay in place month-to-month until one does.

Town Hall Annex

The meeting picked up where it had left off, discussing a capital allocation of $606,171 to lay the groundwork for replacing the aged Town Hall Annex with a new temporary modular unit to house some Town, school district, and police functions until a permanent facility is built. No one knows when that might happen.

The allocation was voted down. That doesn’t necessarily mean the project is dead, but it does complicate funding. First Selectwoman Samantha Nestor plans to call a Special Town Meeting in May to approve a multi-year lease for the new modular itself (with an early-exit option). If it passes, she will have to find other means to fund the physical work and equipment needed to replace the old unit.

Fire truck replacement

An allocation of $553,991 eventually passed on what sounded like a unanimous voice vote, funds for the second installment to replace Fire Engine No. 7. This despite a motion having been made and seconded to cut it to $250,000 and insist that the Weston Volunteer Fire Department come up with the rest from its endowment.

This produced a moderately sharp response from leaders of Weston’s volunteer emergency responders and others.

WVFD president Craig Cohen said the relationship between the fire department and the town has been clear for nearly 100 years: the department provides volunteer manpower and the Town provides equipment. He noted that recent Town budgets have failed to keep pace with the schedule to replace old equipment.

“It’s certainly not unreasonable to watch our money when times are spare,” he said. “Conversely, when we have money, expenses that have been deferred need to be addressed.”

Mr. Cohen characterized as misleading the suggestion that the department is “flush with cash,” adding that most of the endowment is for EMS, “which is self-funded, pays for its own equipment and expenses, and doesn’t get a nickel from this town.” He noted that “when the town was tight for cash,” the department itself provided $650,000 to replace another aging fire engine.

Other speakers expressed dismay at the idea that volunteers should bear the costs of critical services they provide for free, one saying she was “appalled.” EMS president Alycia Angus summed it up, saying, “you’re asking a lot of us volunteers.”

Other matters, one notable

Most capital proposals passed with little or no discussion. But a $75,000 Board of Education request didn’t make it, funds for a district-wide study of LED lighting.

Barely making it — by a vote of 96 to 92 — was a school board request of $96,500 for consulting services to pursue state grants to renovate or replace Weston Middle School.

This will be the subject of an upcoming story — and without doubt many more ahead — as the decision apparently has been taken to apply for school construction grants this year, facing a June 30 deadline.

The grant application process is complicated and demanding. Missing the deadline means waiting a year for another shot.

In the photo at the top of the page, from left to right: ATBM Moderator Robert Uzenoff, Town Attorney Nicholas Bamonte, Parliamentarian Barbara Reynolds, Superintendent Lisa Barbiero, Board of Education chair Steve Ezzes, First Selectwoman Samantha Nestor, Town Administrator Karl Kilduff, and Town Clerk Donna Anastasia.

Related Stories:

April 25, 2024:  Budgets Reduced, ATBM to Continue

April 12, 2024:  Budgets Set, Big Mill Rate Drop Projected

April 3, 2024:  Budgets and Potential Mill Rate Reduced

March 1, 2024:  Town Budget Aims to Catch Up

February 1, 2024:  Fire Truck Funding Halfway Approved

January 26, 2024:  Education Budget Request Trimmed

January 12, 2024:  School Budget Deliberations Underway

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