MERIDEN — The city is considering cutting capital equipment purchases and projects to offset a projected budget deficit of about $2 million.
“We’re taking another look at projects that we may be able to be put off another year or may not be as critical … trying to close the gap for the fiscal year budget,” acting City Manager Ken Morgan said.
The current year’s $194.5 million budget is expected to run a deficit of $1.6 million to $2.3 million, mostly due to cuts in state funding. While some departments are looking to cut or delay projects, others are contemplating delaying hiring and limiting discretionary spending.
Morgan said 19 capital projects that could be cut have been identified. Finance Director Michael Lupkas said about half are in progress and the savings would not amount to more than $150,000.
Morgan, who also serves as fire chief, said $5,000 budgeted for fire rescue equipment can be cut. The funds were the matching portion of a Federal Emergency Management Agency grant the city did not receive.
Public Works Director Bob Bass said a $30,000 traffic signal expansion on East Main Street may be on the chopping block.
The parks and recreation department has no capital projects budgeted for the current fiscal year, but department head Chris Bourdon said he is considering delaying critical repairs to the Hubbard Park pool and Tower Road, which leads to Castle Craig.
“A lot of these things need to be done and you almost kind of second guess yourself — can you get one more year out of extending it?” Bourdon said.” You are kind of pushing things to their limit, but at the same time we are at a very serious deficit hole that needs to be repaired.”
City Planner Bob Seale said he may postpone hiring a new assistant city planner, which could yield about $20,000 in savings.
“I don’t really have a lot of room in my budget,” Seale said. “That’s the problem with trying to cut this budget. We’re a very lean city already.”
Among other projects being put off is the state’s $2.2 million replacement of the Cooper Street bridge, as announced in Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s most recent rash of cuts. The bridge replacement is tied into the city’s expansion of the linear trail from Coe Avenue to Cooper Street.
“Certainly with him pulling back funds it’s going to delay that project,” Bass said. “We have to make the decision, do we wait for funding to possibly come back in line or do we move forward using city funds?”
Lupkas believes it is unlikely cuts will close the deficit gap entirely, anticipating the city will need to tap into reserve funds to offset the shortfall at the end of the year.
Morgan said the impact of the deficit will not become clear until the summer.
“I’m going to bet we won’t be done with the current budget gaps until it closes in July or August,” Morgan said.
Morgan will release his budget for the 2018-19 fiscal year by March.
“Our goal is always to avoid tax increase. Nobody wants to have their taxes increase, but we also have a city to operate and contractual obligations,” Morgan said. “Well try to keep it as flat as we can while meeting our obligations.”