DARIEN, CT — While the state continues to grapple with budgeting woes, Darien officials want to make sure it continues to protect its taxpayers.
The state recently asked municipalities to provide financial data ostensibly to determine which towns could afford cuts in state funding. And while New Canaan told state officials to go find the data themselves, Darien is taking a different approach.
In a letter last week to state Office of Policy and Management Secretary Benjamin Barnes, First Selectman Jayme Stevenson provides some data, but also gently scolds the state for its ineffectual budgeting.
"While we do not share the state’s objectives in redistributing education funding away from towns like Darien, we are compelled to continue our long tradition of conservative financial planning to protect local taxpayers from the tremendous uncertainty created by the state’s fiscal mismanagement," wrote Stevenson. "Darien taxpayers have done our part, without objection, to help ease the state’s burden to municipalities."
Below is the text of Stevenson's letter to Barnes:
Dear Secretary Barnes,
This letter provides a formal response to your request dated August 7, 2017 to Darien’s Town Administrator for information from the Town of Darien. Please note, all future communications from the Office of Policy and Management should be sent to the attention of Darien’s First Selectman.
In response to the state’s prolonged fiscal uncertainty and the likelihood of the state redrafting education funding policy, the Town of Darien recognized the risk to our receipt of traditional Education Cost Sharing (ECS) funds by reducing our revenue assumptions to zero for FY 2016-17 and FY 2017-18 though we acknowledge that the Town of Darien did receive $502,817 in ECS funding for FY 2016-17. It is noteworthy that this is a significant reduction from the $1,732,997 we received in FY2012-13. There is a clear trend that Darien has already been a target of Education Cost Sharing grant funding reductions for over 5 years. In addition, we have assumed zero state aid for PILOT and now question the likelihood of receiving a Town Aid Grant.
While we do not share the state’s objectives in redistributing education funding away from towns like Darien, we are compelled to continue our long tradition of conservative financial planning to protect local taxpayers from the tremendous uncertainty created by the state’s fiscal mismanagement. Darien taxpayers have done our part, without objection, to help ease the state’s burden to municipalities.
We stand firm in our opposition to any reduction in Special Education Excess Cost Reimbursement for our most vulnerable special needs students and therefore, Darien’s Board of Education has budgeted for the state’s full, continued participation in offsetting this expense. Support for all special needs students, regardless of zip code or “wealth metrics” should be a priority for the State of Connecticut.
In addition, we strongly object to any cost sharing for teachers’ pensions. Without a voice at the table and a clear mandate to reform the state’s teacher pension fund that is burdened by legacy costs, inadequate state contributions prior to 1979 and unrealistic investment rates, we reject any pension cost shift that will transfer the tax liability to local taxpayers.
Raising local taxes to offset the shift in tax burden from the state to municipalities is a solution of last resort for Darien, but may become a necessity along with additional cost cutting measures and use of fund balance to mitigate state impacts. It is a priority for Darien to maintain our strong Aaa bond rating, as this serves to lower borrowing costs for our taxpayers. The Governor’s statement that reserves over 5% of budgeted expenses should be available to cover operating costs is contradicted by the August 7, 2017 statement by Moody’s Investor Services: “use of reserves to fill budgetary shortfalls poses a risk to some municipalities because municipal reserve levels in Connecticut are already lower than national medians”. Darien has been advised by our financial advisors and rating agencies that our 10% reserve policy is a minimum standard and that using reserves to cover ongoing operating expenses may jeopardize our bond rating.
We recognize our stakeholder status in the successful resolution of the FY18 state budget. Communities like Darien should be praised for prudent fiscal management that does not further burden the state. Mandate reform, particularly in the areas of collective bargaining and shared non-educational services between Towns and Boards of Education within the same municipality, would provide some welcome relief.
Total Fund Balance Unassigned Fund Balance per GASB 54
FY15 Actual . . . . . . . $19,051,996 $16,693,474
FY16 Actual . . . . . . . 20,285,808 18,243,033
FY17 Estimated . . . . 19,685,808 17,643,033
FY18 Projected . . . . 18,585,808 16,543,033
(based on Adopted
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Darien Scolds State Over Financial Data Request
First Selectman Jayme Stevenson gives state officials a master class
in how to budget responsibly.
By Alfred Branch (Patch Staff), The Darien Patch, Updated August 21, 2017
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