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Council Eyes $1M, Wants More Info on Cuts

Following referendum defeat, Legislative Council has less than one week to act.

In an unprecedented move, the Legislative Council will return next fiscal year's budget request to the boards of Selectmen and Education for additional tinkering with a goal of stripping about $1 million or more from the request.

“We’re going to do whatever it is the council wants us to do,” First Selectman Pat Llodra told the council during a Wednesday meeting at the C. H. Booth Library. “It will mean that services will be eroding but we will do what we do.”

Interpreting Tuesday’s defeat of the budget referendum as a call from voters for lower taxes, all of the council members said they were in favor of reducing the proposed budget although they differed by how much.

“For our budget to be defeated by 300 votes in Newtown is pretty significant,” said Mary Ann Jacob who initiated a resolution that the majority of the council eventually passed.

The council held the meeting because under town rules, the council must revisit the budget proposal by Tuesday before sending it to a second referendum scheduled at the moment for May 17.

This year, rather than setting a firm bottom-line budget number as they have in the past, council members agreed to pass a nonbinding resolution asking the selectmen and education board to return to the council with more information on how $1,066,259 might be cut from the original $107 million budget request.

Under the passed resolution, the proposed cut would be distributed across town and schools budget proposals by a ratio of 30-percent and 70-percent respectively, unless the education and selectmen boards have a different recommendation.

Also under that scenario, the original school budget proposal is expected to decrease by about $746,000 and the original town budget request by about $320,000.

If those cuts were to be made, town property taxes would rise by only 1.5-percent rather than the 2.7 percent originally proposed, officials said. The resulting budget also would represent an annual increase of 1.25-percent rather than the originally proposed 2.25-percent.

Council members are to meet again Tuesday when they would cast their final votes on the exact amount.

Jacob's resolution was supported by many fellow council members, many of whom said they were in favor of making substantial cuts to the budget request in light of the referendum defeat.

"That is probably the right number," fellow council member James Belden said.

In addition to Jacob and Belden, Dan Amaral, Jan Andras, chairman Jeff Capeci, Gary Davis, George Ferguson, Kathy Fetchick, Kevin Fitzgerald and Ben Spragg voted in favor of the resolution. Bob Merola and Rich Woycik cast dissenting votes.

Earlier in the meeting, council member Woycik, supported by Merola and Amaral, attempted to propose a deeper cut of $1.4 million from the budget request but could not muster enough votes.

Based on the referendum defeat, Merola suggested the council consider a flat budget rather than any increase.

“I’m not sure we should assume an increase,” he said. “A zero percent increase is just as valid as anything we are talking about.”

After failing to garner enough votes for more sweeping cuts, Merola, Woycik and Amaral sought to redistribute the reduction between the town and schools budgets by a ratio of 20-percent to 80-percent rather than the proposed 30-70 split.

But that move also failed to garner enough votes.

The council also heard from Board of Finance members who differed in their recommendations, ranging from Joe Kearney, who proposed a total reduction of $955,000, to Jim Gaston, who suggested using a “chisel” to shave off only about $250,000.

Kearney said that in order to keep taxes unchanged, excluding pension and debt service payments, he calculated that the budget request would need to be reduced by $1.9 million.

In between those extremes was Marty Gersten, who said he would recommend an overall tax increase of no more than 1-percent and Harry Waterbury, who said he would advocate more than a “token” amount be removed from the budget but didn’t know what that amount should be.

Finance board chairman John Kortze read an e-mail from fellow board member Mike Portnoy, who could not attend the meeting, but appeared to support a zero percent increase.

Kortze for his part said, “I find myself somewhere in between Marty and Jim.”

Kortze suggested the council determine how much to remove from the budget request and then return the matter to the education and selectmen boards for further review. Those boards then would discuss in public where those reductions would come from and return with their recommendations to the council, which will make a final determination.

“You would be a lot better informed,” Kortze told the council.

Board of Education chairman Bill Hart, who has scheduled a special education board meeting for Monday, said he expected to receive some resistance from a few of his fellow board members on that tactic.

“I have a bit of a challenge, frankly, because I have a board that wants to maintain its independence,” he said.

Under state statute, the education board has the exclusive right to determine how to spend its budget once a final amount has been approved. Hart said the board would still maintain that right.

“Things may change between Monday and June 15…that is no different than any year,” Hart said. “That is the normal course of events, so I don’t have a problem. Do I have a problem with my board? Yes, I will.”

In a separate matter, the council also approved a stipulated agreement between Newtown, Brookfield and United Water regarding plans to extend the water line from the Pootatuck aquifer to the Greenridge section of Brookfield.

Correction: Joe Kearney supported a budget request reductioon of $955,000. He also said that in order to keep taxes nearly unchanged, $1.9 million would have to be removed from the budget proposal. An earlier version of this article was incorrect in describing his position.

Sam Mihailoff April 29, 2011 at 11:38 PM
Robin, the problem is many have...the operation seems cast in stone...unwilling to listen to what they hear (think about that one)...the planned agenda seems to come from some "how to be a superintendent" textbook and the modus operandi does not waver. Even with a direct question, the Newtown shuffle begins and the BOE member says thank-you instead of saying..ok, now how about answering the question...It gets tiresome being ignored and/or considered the "troublemaker's here. Just read the plight Susan McGuinness Getzinger seems to be dealing with. That is small potatoes compared to mismanagement issues town wide, not to say her issue is not important. Until a new attitude for methods of delivering services begins and the scare tactics cease...it will just be the same old same old.
Sandy Hook April 29, 2011 at 11:46 PM
You are absolutely right. The parents pay taxes and tuition. The private schools also don't have to worry about paying for special ed and special ed transport. Wooster School in Danbury is as much $ as college, but their parents still pay taxes to whatever town they are in. Many live in Ridgefield - ouch. Wooster also "nickle-and-dimes" you to death - pay for every little thing, constantly asking for donations and you still have to bring in your own school supplies and tissues! There is the absolutely wonderful Magnet school in Danbury, which is free but you have to get in by lottery. The best odds are if your kids get in by Kindergarten, but it only goes until 5th grade. The technical high schools are also a good option if your child likes what they offer.
Po Murray April 30, 2011 at 01:42 AM
Doug, I am truly interested in reviewing your $3MM plan in detail but I have a request. I ask that your plan will ensure that my children will receive the exact same type of education your children received when they were enrolled in the Newtown School System with the exact same services---- while cutting $3MM from the education budget request. In your plan, please ensure that if your kids didn't pay to play then I am not paying for my kids to play. If your kids didn't take the AP class at a college then don't attempt to make my kid travel to a college to take the AP class etc... I want to see an apple to apples comparison. Please do add the cost of the items like 3rd and 4th grade orchestra and three tier busing if it was offered to your children.
Sam Mihailoff April 30, 2011 at 03:02 AM
watched LC meeting for a third time and I hear "TOWN MEETING" around, arround, around we go =NOTHING...this was beaten up years ago and yet big dollar decisions are to be made at the antiquated 'Town Meeting???" The same town leaders whining over low voter turnout will be content with this form of decision making...another record low tide mark of town mis-leadership...DISGUSTING
Sam Mihailoff April 30, 2011 at 03:15 AM
Town Meeting was great in the horse & buggy days...only way to share info...I'll make this the short form today 1- computers 2- reverse phone system 3-fax 4- phone You're telling me some other form of decision making can't be devised, or is it by deceptive design...sure looks like it if it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck...you get the idea....more mismanagement, inability to adjust to a different thought process, out and out deception...shame on you all in power...each and everyone of you BOOOOOOOOOOOOO
DAY April 30, 2011 at 03:21 AM
A partial reprint from The Wall Street Journal regarding the harm we face at the state level. THE ANTI-CHRISTIE - That's how Connecticut's Democratic Governor Malloy describes himself in contrast to New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. Connecticut residents will pay for the appellation. Whereas Mr. Christie has vetoed tax increases, cut spending and is trying to reform public pensions, Malloy wants to close Connecticut's budget deficit with a huge tax hike and the legislature may approve it this week. It's worth exploring Connecticut's tax gamble, not least because it is so at odds with the fiscal strategy that most Republican Governors and New York's Cuomo are employing to repair state finances. Malloy wants some two dozen new taxes, such as on cigarettes, gasoline, Internet sales, drugs, booze and wealthy estates. Property taxes would climby $500 for the average homeowner. He also wants to every Connecticut worker with earnings above $50,000 in a higher tax bracket. Those making more than $500,000 would see their tax rate rise to 6.7% from 6.5%. Even that's not enough for Democrats, who want to raise it to 7%. Connecticut's history is instructive. Governor Weicker sold an income tax in 1991 as a one-time reform that would keep sales and property taxes low. Instead, a state that paid its bills for 200 years without an income tax and became one of the richest states in per capita income is raising income taxes for the fourth time in 20 years.
DAY April 30, 2011 at 03:22 AM
...And our town and school leaders wanted to add nearly 3% to the damage Malloy and Hartford are about to do.
Carey Schierloh April 30, 2011 at 03:37 AM
The budget goes to a town meeting if it fails twice as stated in the town charter 6-14C. Voters can petition to bring the budget to a referendum instead of town meeting. The LC is following town charter, not trying to be deceptive.
Sam Mihailoff April 30, 2011 at 03:42 AM
Carey, I am not talking about that...did you watch the LC meeting? This is about something taxpayers will live with for a mighty long time WATCH & GROAN FOR YOURSELF http://www.newtown-ct.gov/Public_Documents/NewtownCT_WebDocs/videoarchivent
Sam Mihailoff April 30, 2011 at 03:44 AM
No mention about that either....shhhh they won't find out shhhhhhhhhhhh
Robert Hennessey April 30, 2011 at 04:54 AM
Bring it home, Sam!
Gianine Crowell April 30, 2011 at 11:20 AM
From yesterday's Wall Street Journal regarding residents of New Jersey: Towns Cut Back In Wake of Vote, "Of the state's 566 municipalities, only 14 towns even bothered to ask voters for an increase, and two of those were approved."
CT Yankee April 30, 2011 at 12:39 PM
Wasn't Malloy voted into office?? Didn't he say he would make unpopular decisions? Don't comnplain now. At least we get to vote every 4 years; unlike some parts of the world.
Informed April 30, 2011 at 12:52 PM
@ Growup - Well that was an unwarranted snotty little comment. As far as all of the other votes after the first is declined are they on the 4th Tuesday of every April as well? Hmmm? And where would someone who say Just moved to Newtown have figured that out without reading the town charter? or the bee? and someone who doesn't know about Patch yet? (There are still lots who don't know about Patch) Snottiness is not appreciated for a comment that was merely a suggestion for those who don't know and those who don't care to research it. Yes people are lazy or don't you know that we are the most obese nation proving the fact that people in our nation are lazy. So instead of telling people not to be lazy, how about we use the tools that we KNOW the town has to alert voters and come down to their lazy level (ie computer voting). I mean does it really cost the town anything to use a system they already have. I mean, I don't get mad at the phone calls from the town no matter what they are about - they are electronic so you can hang up on them if you care not to listen. Now if I can get power companies and survey takers to stop calling that would be great! :)
frederick moran April 30, 2011 at 02:44 PM
May 1st is here tomorrow, havn't heard anything on the apartment deal could the republican controlled admin let us know what your decision was. i assume you made it behind closed doors AS USUAL
Cathy April 30, 2011 at 05:09 PM
PLANNING & ZONING COMMISSION Thursday, May 5, 2011 at 7:30 PM NEWTOWN MUNICIPAL CENTER Printer-Friendly Version Regular Meeting May 5, 2011 7:30 P.M., 3 Primrose Street, Newtown, CT COUNCIL CHAMBERS AGENDA 7:30 P.M. CONTINUATION OF PUBLIC HEARINGS Application by the Town of Newtown Planning and zoning Commission for a proposed amendment to Article VI, Section 3, Special Districts, Fairfield Hills Adaptive Reuse (FHAR) Zone for a re-introduction of the original 1998-2005 FHAR regulation that allowed Multiple Family Dwellings as permitted Use #22 and 2005 FHAR regulation that allowed Reuse of Single Family Homes for Affordable Housing as permitted use #22, as noted in a certain document entitled “ Amendment to Article VI – Special Districts, Section 3 – The Fairfield Hills Adaptive Reuse (FHAR)” dated February 2, 2011. Application by the Town of Newtown Planning and Zoning Commission for update to the Town of Newtown Plan of Conservation and Development as contained in a draft document entitled “Sections of the Working Draft Town of Newtown Plan of Conservation and Development 2010 Sandy Hook Design District Draft Hawleyville Center Design Distract Draft South Main Street Design District Draft.” COMMUNICATIONS AND CORRESPONDENCE Land Use Agency Director’s comments. Minutes of 3/31/11 and 4/7/11 ADJOURNMENT Do you want a call too?
Robert Hennessey April 30, 2011 at 05:30 PM
I'm sure the last part was meant sincerely, however, if the decision deadline is May 1, and the meeting to determine that decision is May 5, seems anti-climactic(done deal), no?
Joe Kearney April 30, 2011 at 08:40 PM
The opinion in today's wall street journal that has been mentioned already by several people should be required reading for all elected officials, as well as anyone who does not yet understand what is headed our way from the newly elected Governor of CT. If passed, I calculate that the amount of money that will be transfered from Newtown families to the State will be in excess of $14M and probably closer to $20M. Incredibly, that, coupled with the hit on all the other towns, individuals and businesses in the state won't even come close to balancing the state budget. It's not hard to see why people simply refuse to support any increases in their local budgets when they see the myriad of anti-growth taxes being pushed through by our legislature and Governor.
Robert Hennessey April 30, 2011 at 08:52 PM
The governor's reputation preceded him, the voters knew what they were getting and STILL he was (barely) elected!
DAY April 30, 2011 at 09:04 PM
Yep. Dannel squeaked into office by a razor-thin margin, and no one doubted he would behave this way. I appreciate that we're not Venezuela, but I have to complain and opine - aside from my vote, the power of persuasion is the only power I have. I will wield it repeatedly so that people like Malloy are subjected to maximum criticism as they pursue misguided fiscal policy. For those Nutmeg State buffs who like to stroll down memory lane, I recall watching in stunned amazement as Lowell Weicker instituted the state's first-ever income tax after the S&L crisis - during a recession. Today, we're still kind of in a recession, or on the cusp of a double-dip with inflation, aren't we? Why does Dannel have to repeat Lowell Weicker's folly?
Sam Mihailoff April 30, 2011 at 09:04 PM
Don't pick on Darnell Mallory...hey, he rescinded the idea to tax your visits to the hair stylists didn't he???
Douglas Brennan April 30, 2011 at 09:19 PM
Thank you Joe. Keep up the good work. BRING IT HOME!!!!
Robert Hennessey April 30, 2011 at 10:47 PM
Recent issue of "Voices", which consistently outdoes ANY media outlet in Newtown, details recent Economic Development Commission meeting and discussion of housing at FFH. Bob Sharpe: "We think as a commission there is a role for housing" Members agreed they have not said enough to the FFH Master Plan Committee. Walt Motyka: ".....it might be better to give leases away at little or no cost to get the area occupied....." Mr. Sharpe, advising fellow commissioner Joe Humeston "to tell the (FFH Master Plan Committee) that the EDC is interested in commenting on and developing any commercial uses the committee determines appropriate for FFH." Keep in mind, these are (y)our neighbors, greasing the skids...
Charles Hepp May 02, 2011 at 03:20 AM
Go the Connecticut Department of Education website. Click on School & District on the left side. Choose Finance and Grants and then choose Grant Calculations, Reports. From there, choose Expenditure Data. You will find Newtown’s Net Current Expenditures per Pupil for 2009-2010 was $12,087.13. Out of 167 school districts in the state we rank 134th in per pupil expenditures. There are 21 districts within our District Regional Group B (DRG B) listed, only 6 spend less then Newtown on their students. One of the problems Newtown has, besides spending too little on our kids, is that we spend a high percentage of the school budget on Maintenance and Transportation. We are in the top 25% in spending on Transportation and Maintenance, which takes money out of the classroom. It’s an unfair comparison to say St. Rose spends 5K on their students. I have not found a public site which breaks down St. Rose’s costs. And then the question is, do they include all the of same items spent on their students as does Newtown and report them in the same fashion? The state requires that all public school districts report Staff and Services, Supplies and Equipment, Media Services, Support Services, Admin, Plant Operation and Maintenance, Transportation, Students Tuitioned Out and Other costs. For further information on Newtown students go to newtownschoolsct.org
Susan McGuinness Getzinger May 04, 2011 at 04:53 AM
Here are some numbers: 2011-2012 education budget proposed: $67,971,427.00 Divided by all citizens: $2517.46 each citizens share of educ budget Divided by adult/taxpayers (less approx 30% - those under 18): 18,900 taxpayers paying $3596.37 each annually on Proposed Education budget , or $299.69/month or 74.92/week or $1.87/hour of 40 hour work week. Someone commented on the info. I posted re: St. Rose and their $5k/per pupil expenditure, I apologize, but I didn't have a chance to respond until now. I am not sure if it was just you alone, Sandy Hook, so I replied to your post here. I know that private schools like ST Rose do not have the same expenses, but I do also want to point out that the parents footing the bill for private schools is ON TOP OF paying the public education bill above. Also, while they do not have the same mandatory expenses at private schools, they also have lower overhead when it comes to the many high salaries that are being discussed in this forum. Thank you, Mrs. Leidlein, for trying to keep the Educational Assistants for the children and the jobs for the 20 Newtown taxpayers. I appreciate all of your hard work. Our tax dollars at work: my hearing re BOE Atty complaint #10-0950 is set for June 9, 2011 at 9:30 at 80 Washington Street, Hartford, CT - I am hoping we get back our $27k.
Gianine Crowell May 04, 2011 at 01:07 PM
Susan - I appreciate your breakdown of taxes, but I think you are assuming that every taxpayer has the same tax obligation. Based on my household tax bill, if 30% is designated for the Town and 70% is for schools, then I am paying $11,200 toward the school budget, or $5600 per adult. This does not cover the cost to educate one child in the Newtown school system. And I do not send my two kids to NHS. The cost of private school tuition, books & laptop is equivalent to college tuition. So I am one of those people who is paying for both private school and Newtown schools, but that was a personal choice we made for our family. The cost of each private school exceeds the per pupil expenditure in Newtown. My daughter's school is more than twice that - but it is an excellent school which uses laptops in the classroom and class size ranges from 12 - 17 students. During snow days her math teacher instructed students online - and it was all interactive. While they do not pay for special ed, I'm sure their teachers are not underpaid. Perhaps private schools are able to decide more independently how they spend their tuition. All that aside, I still support Newtown schools because I believe it is for the greater good of everybody, especially the students. I am sorry you are having difficulties with the school. Is there room for improvement, and are there a few bad apples that should not be there? YES! But that does not negate the good things that are happening at all levels.
Douglas Brennan May 04, 2011 at 01:44 PM
Dear Ms. Crowell: I hope that you are not using the tuition paid for your students as an indicator of what it will cost to go to a top private college! From experience it now costs about $50,000 to $55,000 per year to send them to the IVY League or other top colleges. I have always said that if they get in you should do your part and send them. When they go you will be in the same position that you are in today. You will pay for them and you will pay through your CT taxes for those that go to UCONN, WestConn, Southern etc. You will also pay on your Federal taxes for Pell grants, defaulters on their student loans, etc. You get the idea. When they graduate, establish themselves as members of the community, and are accountable and responsible you will feel it was worth it. If you teach them to be discerning they will actually see the absurdity of where and how we spend money and wonder why you have left them hopelessly in debt as a nation by not requiring the same dedication and diligence that you required of them of our public sector employees and elected officials.
Robert Hennessey May 04, 2011 at 02:13 PM
The public sector employees included, would pertain to the municpal, as well as educational sides of our town's budget. There is room to eliminate administrative positions, some/many of which were unnecessary from the start (hello-nepotism), on both sides. Of course, our elected officials would have us believe only teaching positions can be cut. This is due to their continued failure to contain costs and present an acceptable budget annually.
Gianine Crowell May 04, 2011 at 04:47 PM
The combined cost of sending two children to two private high schools hovers around $50,000. I agree that if my children were fortunate enough to earn a spot at an ivy league school, I would send them. I also agree that we as a nation are leaving the next generation "hopelessly in debt", yet CT keeps electing tax and spend liberals at the state/federal level. I am hoping for different results in 2012. I'm not sure I understand your last sentence? Do you assume I do not expect diligence from public employees and elected officials? This budget cycle has been a collaborative effort between all boards, and without attending meetings as I have done in the past, I trust that the elected officials whom I support are doing their best to present a reasonable budget. Now that cuts need to be made, I would rather see a greater reduction on the town side. It is the town that has squandered millions of taxpayer dollars related to FFH. Still no accounting of exactly where and how much was spent. Without studying the school budget, I cannot say whether there is room for cuts or how much. I know that a large percentage of the budget comes from contracts. Contracts and tenure is an entirely different discussion, but I do believe it drives the increases in our budgets. With regard to my children's perception, we actually have political discussions at home and enjoy reading the Wall Street Journal - even my 16 year old. They understand the repercussions current economic policies.
Susan McGuinness Getzinger May 04, 2011 at 05:37 PM
Dear Ms. Crowell, No, I am not assuming that we all have the same tax obligation at all - I am just breaking down only the educational figure on Patch to the average taxpayer, to give an idea of the cost to the citizens. Many pay more, many pay less, but all the taxpayers pay and I believe we should know what we are paying for. 300 - accounting numver for "Special Services" should be itemized - we do not need to know family names, but if same account number keeps coming up, we may assume the cost is tied to the same case. I believe many good things are happening in Newtown schools, but when things are not going the way the law and policy state they should, we need to hold people in power accountable and correct the situation. I voted for more money for the schools. Now that I know how money is being spent in my cases at by the Administration, until it is fixed, I can't knowingly vote for waste of taxpayer dollars. I feel that it is a form of theft to take money and appropriate it towards going against policy and law.

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