SOUTHINGTON – The Town has implemented a hiring freeze on all positions excluding public safety until more information becomes available on the state budget.
Town Council Chair Chris Palmieri said that the budget situation was now “out of our hands.”
“I would like to thank our town staff for making decisions that allowed us to have a $3 million contingency fund, which probably leaves us better off than some towns,” said Palmieri. “However, it is not quite enough to cover our deficit with the latest version of the budget.”
To combat the $5 million deficits in state aid from what the town budget projected, the town agreed to implement the hiring freeze. Palmieri noted that the Board of Education would adopt a similar policy.
“We will also be looking into finding efficiencies and savings, potentially cutting some hours,” said Palmieri. “Additionally, all non-emergency overtime will need to be approved by the Town Manager.”
Palmieri later announced that the town will not be hiring a new Deputy Town Manager. This decision was reached in executive session with the town council.
Emelia Portelinha, director of finance, also provided the details of a 2017 fiscal audit and discussed budget challenges going in 2018.
The town currently has $20,140,000 in its unassigned fund balance, 12.4 percent of operating revenues. This is a slight decrease from last year’s 13.1 percent, as the balance was used to fund some capital projects. She said that using this fund for projects may not be “prudent” going forward. Rating agencies, she said, are watching towns to see how they respond to the state budget crisis. Falling back too heavily on these funds, she said, could reflect poorly on the town’s stability which could affect its credit rating.
Southington currently enjoys a AA+ rating- the second highest rating possible.
Portelinha also said that Town Manager Mark Sciota had directed departments to find additional savings of 5 to 10 percent.
“He instructed them to examine inefficient or undesirable services,” she said.
Following a public hearing, the town approved $900,000 for costs related to an upgrade of the South End Pump Station. The project will be funded via bonds.
“We have 200 miles of sewer and 10 pump stations,” explained Jim Grappone of the town Engineering Department. “The South End station was constructed in 1973 and it is aging. We can’t find some components and we need to retrofit it if anything breaks. This upgrade will result in increased efficiency. We will replace the roof, the control system and the alarm system but we have found some cost savings by keeping the facade the same. We will advertise this month, go out to bid in February and award it in March. The project should take about a year to complete.”
Grappone later explained that such systems usually last 20 to 25 years.
At the start of the meeting, the council held a moment of silence to honor Dick Fortunato, a longtime community member who died recently. A journalist and member of the Knights of Columbus, Fortunato spearheaded the creation of the Christopher Columbus statue that was erected last year outside of the John Weichsel Municipal Center.
Brian M. Johnson can be reached at 860-973-1806 or firstname.lastname@example.org.