Both parties touted a desire to maintain and even enhance government services in Southington Monday evening, but partisan politics came into play before the finally approved a $129.7 million for the 2012-13 fiscal year.
The Board of Education budget of $82.44 million passed without issue, but differences over items including salary increases, new staffing at Southington Town Hall and allocations for legal services led to a 6-3 vote along party lines before the $45.23 million General Government budget was finally passed.
The General Government budget included a $195,000 reduction found recently within the water department line item.
Democratic Councilman John Barry expressed frustration before voicing why he would reject the budget, saying he believed they were handcuffed and were not given any compromise during the process.
“There are some people in this year’s budget who will be seeing an increase in their taxes of 15 to 20 percent just based on revaluation. We need to reduce costs wherever possible and reduce the burden to these folks,” Barry said. “We’ve failed to do that.”
The nearly 90-minute discussion began after minority leader Christopher Palmieri brought up concerns over several line items within the 2012-13 budget, but the discussion first became heated when Democrats and Republicans expressed opposing views over how to handle the proposed salary for the unoccupied position left vacant by Tranquillo and a new position for a treasurer within the .
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Palmieri and Barry each expressed concerns that the added salary quotes were “irresponsible” and did not do enough to create a savings for the taxpayer in a year where revaluation caused a 9-percent decline in the grand list.
The two Democrats, supported by Dawn Miceli, requested reductions of $94,000 from the North Center School project, $60,000 for the treasurer position, $7,000 in pay cuts to reduce a raise given to Highway Superintendent Steve Wlodkowski and other staff-related costs.
“In a year where there are so many taxpayers who could be seeing considerable increases, we are simply looking for there to be one of three brand new positions cut,” Palmieri said. “It’s not an unreasonable request and it’s a compromise that we are seeking.”
A request made to reduce flexible funding for Southington Town Manager Garry Brumback from $100,000 to $50,000 was also rejected by a 6-3 vote along party lines.
Republicans Cheryl Lounsbury, Peter Romano and now former Town Council Chairman Edward Pocock III each said they could not support the motions because it would “micromanage” the town manager’s budget, which saw considerable adjustments to accounts in Brumback’s first year.
Lounsbury further added that although the town has chosen to do things in a more traditional manner in the past, Southington is now under new leadership and that leadership needs to be given both the tools and the opportunity to thrive.
“The last two councils have really changed the way this town is being run and being led,” Lounsbury said. “We are hiring skill sets and will take a while to have right people in place. Once we do that, I think we will find that we will be able to do more for less.”
Barry expressed frustration with the council’s inability to meet in the middle Monday night and called the budget the “worst I have ever seen in my time on the council.”
With the budget passed on Monday evening, the Board of Finance will officially set the mill rate later this week. Barring any unforeseen changes before then, the general mill rate would see an anticipated increase of about 0.63 mills after adjusting the existing rate following revaluation.
For Democrats, it was a frustrating budget season that began with fireworks and a 4-2 vote along party lines at .
Democrats Anthony Casale Jr. and Sandra Feld strongly opposed the budget then, saying that their voices were muted during the process and that Board of Finance Republicans failed to meet them in any sort of compromise.
The Board of Finance had cut roughly $1.06 million off the trim proposal given to them, however, and it left a combined increase of just 2.3 percent for the upcoming fiscal year.
“I personally think this is a good budget and that when Garry Brumback came to town, he did a great job of juggling a lot of accounts,” Pocock said on Monday. “As far as calling it one of the worst budgets, we are in negative numbers over what was spent last year and are still accomplishing more. That is the path in which we need to go.”
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