After a three-hour meeting Wednesday night, the Trumbull Board of Finance approved a 2013-2014 budget of $152 million by a narrow 3-2 vote, with one abstention.
The proposed school budget remained at about $93 million. It does not include $692,650 for school's technology update plan, "Project Catapult," and $874,000 set aside under a special account.
The total budget recommended Wednesday night contains a net increase of $53,048 to the one proposed by First Selectman Tim Herbst. The first selectman called for a 2.74 percent increase to the school budget, compared to the Board of Education's 4.56 percent requested increase.
The Town Council reviews the budget proposal next. If that is approved, the school board must trim $1.862 million from its request.
The finance board's three republicans voted in favor and democrats Tom Tesoro, Andy Palo and Steve Lupien were against the final number.
"We feel there are elements in this budget that are not correct," Tesoro said.
Lupien said he abstained to avoid a deadlock. That would have led to the finance board's task being passed on to the Town Council, as happened in 2011.
Education Budget Debate
The education budget sparked the most discussion.
Vincent DeGennaro, an alternate and an Information Technology professional, said the district shouldn't bond computer equipment because of its short life span. Particularly, he said he was concerned that Project Catapult is a three-year plan and needs funding all three years.
"I don't think you want to bond every year for technology," he said.
Member Tom Tesoro moved to add $962,350 to the school budget, but it was ultimately defeated. That would have required the school board to trim $900,000 instead of $1.8 million from its proposal, and would have preserved programming.
It would also make it easier for Gary Cialfi, who replaces Supt. Ralph Iassogna in July, and the new district Business Manager, Sean W. O'Keefe, to get their footing, Tesoro said.
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The motion was made "in a spirit of compromise," Tesoro said.
Member Paul Lavoie replied that the district has had surpluses even with smaller budget increases "year after year."
"I think they do an amazing job with the budget they end up with," he said.
However, replied Tesoro, "As they say on Wall Street, past performance is no indication of the future." He added that the school board gets a "very mixed message" regarding its spending.
The motion failed 3-3.
The discussion then turned to town demographics. Lavoie said he was concerned about the burden on Trumbull seniors.
Chairwoman Elaine Hammers added, "It worries me. It just keeps adding up and adding up. I don't know where it ends."
"I think there is a limit. There are a lot of unemployed people. There are a lot of underemployed people," she said.
After Tesoro's motion failed, he asked the three republican board members who voted against his proposal if they would vary from the first selectman's proposed budget.
"We're pretty comfortable with the first selectman's numbers," said member David Rutigliano.
Tesoro replied, "I wish you have said that earlier," adding he "wouldn't have wasted 2 1/2 hours." Tesoro also apologized to the school parents in the audience.
After the meeting, Tesoro said he's been both in the minority and the majority parties, and has concluded that "One-party government is bad for the community."
Even after the Town Council approves a budget, more work remains.
Bonding is expected for the Project Catapult funds, in addition to about $1 million for a new soccer field and Trumbull High School football field turf and $800,000 for enhanced school security.