By SHERIDAN CYR
On Wednesday, Jan. 3, the Committee of the Chairs met for their second time to discuss interdepartmental happenings on Southington’s boards and committees. The committee is composed of the chairs from the Town Council, Board of Education, Board of Finance, Planning and Zoning, the Town Manager and Superintendent of Schools, and the group meets once per month.
Since their last meeting, the reports about the state deficit have increased by $20 million, from $204 million to $224 million. Southington already faced a $5.1 million cut from the state. Now, the town is bracing for additional cuts that will likely come from the larger deficit.
The current plan for the $5.1 million was to use the $3 million contingency that was set aside by the BOF earlier in 2017 with the foresight of soon-to-come budget cuts. That would leave $2.1 million for Southington to address.
BOF chair John Leary reported the $3 million contingency would be dispersed in three portions: in January, March and May. The dollar amounts and exact dates have not been determined yet. Leary urged the importance of considering what budget cuts and difficulties will be presented in the years to come.
“When we get to the big picture, we expected about $21 million from the state, and now they’re shorting us at least $5.1 million,” said Leary. “Just hypothetically, consider four more of those over time. I don’t know where the state will be, but we have to have the bigger conversation about how self-sufficient Southington wants to be, and what we can provide.”
Leary added that the budget will have to be addressed by a hybrid of cuts or by adjustments to services and raising taxes. “This shouldn’t be a decision made just by the BOF,” he said. “We should hold a workshop and get all the stakeholders involved.”
One particular budget concern in Southington involves the spiraling overtime payments in the fire department. The budget currently allows for $694,424 in overtime, and as of the meeting, the actual overtime spending has been $538,886.99. That leaves just over $150,000 to last through the end of the fiscal year in June.
“This is a great concern because at that rate, we’re going to exceed that amount of money,” said Town Council chair Chris Palmieri.
Officials point to the lack of a fire chief as part of the cause for the rising overtime. Former SFD chief Buddy Clark retired last year, and the department has had an interim chief serving since his retirement.
As far as filling the fire chief position, there have been some difficulties. Palmieri explained that a search was being conducted through an outside firm. Three finalists were selected, but one dropped out and the remaining two failed testing for handling crisis-type scenarios.
“So we’re back at square one,” said Palmieri. The Board of Fire Commissions would now approach the BOF in search of a $25k transfer from the Fire Department budget in order to hire another hiring firm to start from scratch.
“Public safety is number one to all of us,” said Leary, “but to do it effectively and efficiently is the goal. We won’t compromise safety.”
To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Sheridan Cyr, email her at SCyr@SouthingtonObserver.com.