The weekly budget review meetings continued Monday night as the Suffield Board of Finance heard from several departments at the Suffield Police Station. Hoping to present a zero increase budget to the Town, members discussed several cost-saving measures as well as potential systems for increasing the efficiency of tax collection.
Tax Collector Jill Schechtman proposed an upgrade to the tax-collecting system that would residents to view their account online and give the tax office the ability to accept electronic payment. Members expressed concern about accepting credit card payments, but Schechtman noted that was not part of the proposal, though debit cards might be another alternative.
The added convenience could bring a cost savings, with less spent on collections. She noted that almost everyone was using computers and the Internet.
“I think that's a rash assumption," was the dry response from Board of Finance Chairman Justin Donnelly. "There's a few of us in this room that haven't a clue.”
Assessor Helen Totz said that excepting required spending for education for herself and the assistant assessor, all line items in her budget were less expensive than last year. The grand list is likely to be stagnant with no major increase expected.
The next property re-evaluation will not be a door-to-door assessment, but rather a statistical model which will not cost as much. The re-evaluation is scheduled to take place in 2013.
Several board members sought more statistical information from the police commission, specifically better comparison information with similar towns. Police Chief Mike Manzi reported that crime in Suffield remained basically unchanged despite the pressure of the recession. Suffield consistently ranks in the top ten among municipalities of similar size for lowest crime rate.
The police department is looking to purchase two replacement cruisers. Ford is ending production on the Crown Victoria model and the new standard police vehicle will likely cost $5,000 to $7,000 more than the current cruiser. Switching to a different make of vehicle would be difficult due to compatibility issues with on-board equipment.
Manzi presented the possibility of purchasing two of the older model Crown Victorias if a purchase order could be issued quickly. The Board took no action on the purchase, but would consider using contingency funds if feasible.
First Selectman Tom Frenaye led a discussion about a study of the impact of rolling the trash collection fee into town taxes. Specifically, the study looked at the impact on condominium complexes and the impact on individual taxpayers.
The study revealed a savings for condo associations over their current private collectors' rates and an overall benefit for taxpayers as a whole as reimbursement from the state would yield $180,000 annually. A savings of as much as $10,000 for collections is expected.
Roughly 75 percent of homeowners would see a savings in the amount paid if it were part of the mill rate. The plan would increase the mill rate by two-thirds of a mill in the first year, down to half of a mill in subsequent years after state reimbursements are factored in.
“Towns around us that have municipal trash pick up do it as part of their mill rate,“ Frenaye said.
Action on the trash collection issue is schedule for the next regular Board of Finance meeting on April 11, 2011.