By SHERIDAN CYR
As it turns out, celebrations about the Apple Harvest Festival’s profits might have been premature. At the Jan. 8 council meeting, the Apple Harvest Festival Committee reported that the previously shared financial report for the 2017 festival was incorrect.
AHF Committee and Town Council chair Chris Palmieri shared some of the discrepancies from the November report.
Overtime costs were the biggest change. Police overtime costs were initially reported as $50,209, but the actual amount was $52,724. Parks Department overtime was listed at $2,892, when in actuality it cost $3,022. The Fire Department overtime, of $837, was missing entirely.
In addition, the first report didn’t include the cost of fireworks. Entertainment was listed at $17,500, when in actuality it cost $19,000.
The town still made a profit of about $1,500, compared to a loss in 2016, but in the November report, it was announced that the festival cleared $15,000 in profit.
There was also discrepancy about the amount of seed money set aside for the 2018 festival. In November, officials reported a starting fund balance of $195,000 for 2018. In actuality, the fund balance is $110,000.
“After having spoken with the finance department on this, we have a plan now, and we are moving forward,” said Palmieri. “For the sake of transparency, we want to make sure everyone is aware of these figures, which are actually from the finance department, so that we know this is an actual amount.”
Lombardi, who reported the November figures, said this was a learning experience. “Now we know that the committee needs to go to the finance department and double check these numbers regardless of what is given to us. I’m glad this was brought to the surface, and we will move forward from here.”
Councilor Victoria Triano said that councilors in committees like these often turn to paid staff to work out the finer details, and that they should do that.
“This festival continues to grow each year, and in response to that, it will require certain checks and balances,” said Triano. “These facts should be certified through the finance department. We have safeguards in place. I’m glad this was caught.”
The finance department also gave a presentation to the council, led by director Emilia Portelinha, which addressed continuous issues surrounding the town and state budget. Portelinha reported there are three main expenditures the department is keeping a close eye on: the snow and ice budget, which is difficult to estimate, the Fire Department overtime, and accumulated payout.
The finance department believes that all three of these costs will exceed this year’s budget estimates.
In addition, Portelinha said that reports about the state’s budget deficit increased almost $20 million in the most recent reports. Because the deficit is more than 1 percent of the state budget, the governor has to come up with a Deficit Mitigation Plan, in which there are plans to potentially cut an additional $50 million to municipalities across the state.
Portelinha said, per the Acting Town Manager, all departments have received a notification of expectations. They are being asked to review services and eliminate the no longer effective or lesser interest programs. In addition, the town is being asked to look for reductions before they can act on any new initiatives. Departments must submit a list eliminating 5 percent of their current budgets.
“Are there things that can be combined, or eliminated, based on residents’ needs?” Portelinha said. “Given the uncertainty, department heads must look to make substantive changes. Merely delaying expenditures to the next fiscal year won’t cut it.”
Palmieri also reported on a conversation he had with Acting Town Manager Mark Sciota. “Our town is probably in better shape than many other towns in the state, but it’s not quite enough to cover the deficit,” he said. “In response to this, I met with our Town Manager and asked him to do a couple things to protect our town.”
Some of what they discussed includes furthering an existing policy which requires the Town Manager to approve all new hires excluding public safety. As a result of their conversation, the town is implementing a hiring freeze on any new hires in the town government, again excluding public safety.
In addition, departments will be reviewed, and are asked to reduce spending on daily operations
All non public safety overtime must be reviewed and approved by the Town Manager, as well. Palmieri also reached out to Speaker of the House Joe Aresimowicz to have a discussion on what is happening with the state budget.
“I just want to assure that we are on top of the issues with the budget,” said Palmieri. “We certainly are taking it seriously. We are having constant communication across elected boards as we move through this as best as we can.”
To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Sheridan Cyr, email her at SCyr@SouthingtonObserver.com.