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Fireworks Ignite as Dems Criticize Lack of Budget Cuts

The town's annual budget was passed from the Board of Finance to the Town Council Wednesday, but not before receiving heavy criticism from members of the minority party.

The Board of Finance has passed a $127.9 million combined budget for the 2012-13 fiscal year, but the $1.06 million in reductions made over the past two months was hardly enough to satisfy members of the Democratic Party.

Minority board members Anthony Casale Jr. and Sandra Feld expressed “serious concerns” with the process and a lack of legitimate budget cuts in a tough economy as fireworks ignited before the budget was passed to the Town Council by a 4-2 vote along party lines Wednesday night.

The disagreement in a final proposal led to heated discussion in the Council Chambers at that left members of the minority party hot under the collar.

“There were a possible $850,000 in additional cuts we were proposing and in the end, we made just $34,000 in cuts,” Casale said.

“To say there was $1 million in cuts is a fabrication,” he said. “Of the $850,000 in reductions made to the general government budget, only $171,000 would still have been included had the Southington Town Manager (Garry Brumback) presented his budget to us today.”

The war of words erupted early in the meeting after Casale and Feld criticized the process, saying they believe they were stonewalled in attempting to make cuts to both the General Government and Board of Education budgets.

Feld said a change in the way discussions were held during workshops over the past two weeks prevented them from looking at the budget as a group line-by-line and allowed department heads “to act as lobbyists” in order to prevent cuts to their budget.

The final budget passed, which included $45.42 million in General Government funding and $82.44 million for the Board of Education, represents a 2.3 percent increase in overall spending.

The change in spending would amount to a 0.63-mill increase after adjusting the current mill rate to “reset the books” following last year’s revaluation process. Revaluation saw property values decline by an average of 9 percent.

“For last 10 years, I sat at nearly every budget workshop in town,” said Feld, who along with Casale is serving her first-term as an elected official. “While I have disagreed many times and have watched members disagree, they were willing to listen to each other. This has been most unreceptive, hostile budget process I’ve been a part of.”

Republicans Joseph Labieniec, Wayne Stanforth and John Leary all stood in favor of the proposed budget and appeared surprised by the remarks made from minority members.

Leary questioned the intent of their comments, saying that if the Republican incumbents were unwilling to listen, they wouldn’t have hosted a fourth session and sat through more than 11 hours of discussions during the past two weeks.

In meeting for the workshops, discussions appeared civil but Democrats made it clear they believed more needed to be done to reduce the budget. Leary said cutting for the sake of cutting is not a good thing and may not be the best decision for the community or the taxpayers.

“I tried to run a respectful process,” Leary said. “We did ask and receive answers to a lot of questions, working through the budget books for eight weeks.”

“Is it in best interest of taxpayer to cut something out or leave something in? Every item in budget cannot be cut,” he said. “We asked for a responsible budget, and Mr. Brumback took one in to us that was already at a 2 percent increase. To take it from there and say, ‘now need to cut every line,’ is not necessarily best interest of taxpayer.”

Labieniec and Stanforth each said they were making decisions that were in the best interest of the town and its taxpayers as a whole, maintaining services and addressing long ignored needs such as technology. The approved budget would also add three full-time positions on the town side.

With the poor real estate market causing a drastic decline in the town’s grand list, however, and the council approving four percent increases in the sewer budget over the next two years following increases of 20 percent and 15 percent over each of the past four, Feld and Casale said residents are already taxed to their limits, however.

Casale noted that despite the change in property values, some homes actually remained at their existing values or even saw slight increases. For those who did not see a decline, the adjusted mill rate will serve no consolation and leaves them with bills that would reflect a near 4-mill increase, he said.

“These residents are looking at an increase that could be 13, even 15 percent. That’s a large increase to ask them to bear,” Casale said. “Do we need $1 million in new initiatives in this climate? How about half? There was no negotiating, the proposed budgets were simply rubber stamped.”

Leary said properties that saw increases were many times a result of renovations and property improvements. He said the purpose of a revaluation is to balance the books and reset values to help maintain a balanced net across the community.

“Residents need to understand, revaluation is not an intent to raise taxes,” Leary said. “Based on the property we have on grand list, which is valued at $3.7 billion, residents will pay property tax evenly based on that.”

The proposed budgets are now passed on to the Town Council, who will host a public hearing at 7 p.m. in the auditorium at on April 23. Council members will vote on a final budget in May.

Arthur Cyr March 29, 2012 at 01:27 PM
Patch editor Jason Vallee & I sat thru every budget workshop. After hearing Ms. Feld state "This has been most unreceptive, hostile budget process I’ve been a part of.” Jason turned to me and asked "Were we at the same meetings?" Change doesn't come easy. This year's budget process WAS entirely different from previous years. The budget presented by the Town Manager shows major changes in operations and philosophy. That budget, submitted on 2-17-2012 by Brumback asked for a General Government increase of $923,113 or 2%. After more review and discussions, numerous line items were REDUCED by $10,000 to $120,000 and as evidence our Town side budget increase is ONLY $73,000. Reductions of over $850,000 on the town side. This is NOT a "fabrication", and to say they were "stonewalled" is only because after numerous answers to their questions... their only reply to corrected information was "Oh. Right." People that had been prepped to go line by line like their predecessors, cutting $1,000 here and only $500 there like previous years may have indeed felt slighted. Having sat thru every budget workshop again this year, I can attest that EVERY requested reduction was reviewed and discussed. Some people simply did not like the answers. In my opinion, a Town reduction of $850,000 in a $45 million budget should have also meant an equal or greater BOE cut, but all we got was a $215,000 cut and that is where the taxpayers really got smacked. Again. Up $3 million. OUCH!.
Tony Casale March 29, 2012 at 09:13 PM
Art, Even the majority conceded that the $210,000 for sinking fund, the $55868 53rd pay, the $120,000 library, the $250,000, and the $6449 from hydrants cannot be considered cuts, as they would not even have been in the budget had the Town Manager submitt it today. Even the $15,000 from highway was cut at the beginning due to a purchase. You know this because you were there. Joe said it more than once in his arguement to make equal cuts tothe BOE,but now after the fact, they are touted as cuts. I the only reduction in line items were the $115000 from fire (that we will give back if needed), $4000 from gasoline, 50,000 from contigency, $1000 from overtime due to new hire,, $15000 from parks(carry over from this year) and $5000 from community svcs due to new hire. Thats all folks, even the BOE cut was not really $215,000, we asked them to use $100000 that the added up this year to purchase something for next year, leavingthe cut at $115000 from a $82,400,000 budget. As I see it we cut $290,000 from a budget of $128,000,000. These are REAL numbers. Anthony F Casale Jr Southington Board of Finance
Tony Casale March 29, 2012 at 09:15 PM
That should read $250,000 from the Town hall infrastructure
Arthur Cyr March 30, 2012 at 01:18 AM
Every other reader and taxpayer can look up the proposed budget and see that there have been reductions of over $850,000 in the Town government budget. To try to say "IF the budget was submitted TODAY it would NOT have those items in it".... is exactly why we have a budget reduction process. Please STOP trying to scare by people insisting that they're going to have 13% to 15% tax increases. Very few people have those rare situations. And there are people that may see 7% to 14% decreases in their total tax bills. But the vast majority of people will see will be able to absorb the .63 of a mill increase along with their new revaluation. Every reduction you requested at Tuesday's 4th workshop was discussed and explained. Isn't it amazing how much you learn your first year on the job??
Tony Casale March 30, 2012 at 02:00 AM
Yes it is,, Joe said several times that these items would not be submitted if the budget were presented today, they were not cut, they HAPPENED during the process, but they happened on thier own, I heard it and so did you,say what you want about me being new to this, I have done my homework, we put forth a good case for the cuts. I don't need to explaine my self in here to you, you could do so much good for the town withthe knoweledge you have, instead you look to post these things that YOU see, a thousand people could read both sides and have a thousand different opinions, I am not trying to scare anyone, those situations are more common than you know, get off your soap box Art, I ain't buying at this store anymore.
Arthur Cyr March 30, 2012 at 03:57 AM
Be your own man Tony Casale. STOP letting the ghosts whisper in your ear. They aren't on BOF anymore. I hear plenty in all the meetings I attend, I see plenty watching all the players in the room. The difference is (A) I'm impartial and (B) I stopped listening to the BS last year.
Sara Jo March 30, 2012 at 11:02 AM
Oh, Arthur, you are as impartial as can be, you know you don't have to say that and you don't have to use the word "BS" to cover your real feelings about those who differ from your unbiased opinions. But back on planet earth, how to you think reductions to educational staffing and fire protection funding is a good thing for the community as opposed to $900 thousand of artificial turf you've been lobbying loud and long to defend. You want to see where the Town Council stands on that and then you can crow about their austerity. Wonder when Pocock & Co. are going to give you a patronage job -- you're really working the old OT for the boy.
Arthur Cyr March 30, 2012 at 02:03 PM
Look again at both budgets! There is NO funding for restoration of the track or field at SHS. Reductions in Educational funding?? The Board of Finance didn't do that. It was done by the Board of Education and Dr. Erardi after student enrollment went down and Federal grants that allowed for their hiring years ago expired. And the Town looked at the line for OVERTIME at the Fire Department jumping from $500,000 to $690,000 and authorized approximately $30,000 for a audit/review/study of the SFD operations to reduce OVERTIME on top of the $2,379,000 in regular wages. And finally good "old" Sara Jo, I wouldn't think of taking YOUR patronage job that your daddy got you years ago. I have higher standards. Oh, and from now on I'll say manure or malarkey since you don't like the abbreviation above.
Lucy March 30, 2012 at 02:56 PM
As a whole, the buget process appears to be working. The Superintendent and Town Manager have prepared fair budgets. The budgets are being reviewed and adjustments are being made. Cutting line items in budgets for the sake of cutting them only to see the funds appropriated at a later date in the fiscal year helps no one in the long run. The operating budget and capital budget are two separate entities. Purchases that can be funded over a reasonable period without negatively impacting the operation of any department should be included in the capital budget and the projects funded accordingly to manage the town's funds and debt service. Reality dictates, emergencies happen and contingencies exist. As for the possible renovations to the S.H.S. track and field, no one I have spoken to objects to the concept, it is the funding that is the major point of contention. It is absolutely true no funds appear in this fiscal year or the next for these improvements. The concern, as it has been expressed to me, is the possibility that a bond ordinance will be proposed and adopted over community objection to the project being funded by taxpayers.
Debra Dawidowicz May 21, 2012 at 01:39 PM
How old are the people commenting here? Really.

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