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 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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