There are only two more evenings of Office Hours with Newtown's First Selectman and other town officials before the referendum on Thursday. In meetings so far, as many as five or six residents per meeting have sat with the First Selectman and members from other town boards to discuss the budget.
The meetings have been closed to the press for the purpose of allowing the residents to freely speak their mind. First Selectman Pat Llodra said that the meetings have been very successful and that residents seemed to appreciate the environment to voice their opinions in a conversational forum.
“I am enjoying the opportunity to talk with people in smaller groups, people who might not express their views in a bigger meeting. This is more of a discussion, and I am liking that a lot,” Llodra said.
The questions people are asking are good ones, Llodra said. “They wonder how to manage taxation. It is a challenge we are all facing. They are very open, honest and interesting. It has been a very worthwhile effort, and I feel I may want to continue it.”
The dominant theme remains the same in each of the meetings, according to Llodra.
“People are very worried about finances," she said. "We need to find a way to reduce taxes as much as possible. Every single person has expressed great commitment to the town and education system, but there are some people who don’t have confidence in their own financial situation or in the general economy.”
“One of the most important things they do is to share their perspective,” Llodra said.
Judy Vetare, who stopped in to speak with Llodra on Monday evening, has lived in Newtown for four years, and feels a deep commitment to the town. Vetare said she will be voting yes on Thursday.
“Right now, times are hard," she said. "I get that. But right now, we need to care about each other. That is what Newtown has always been about. I am voting yes because I have to think about what is good for everyone, not just myself.”
Vetare, who said her husband works 20 hours overtime to make ends meet, said she knows that there are consequences to voting for this budget, both good and bad. However, she said, “If I only think about what I need, then it is not a caring community.”
At the stroke of 5 p.m. on Monday, small groups of residents began to show up at the First Selectman's office. Llodra, joined by Chairman of the Board of Education Debbie Leidlein, ushered the residents into a small conference room and closed the door.
At 6:30 p.m, the door opened and the attending residents, most of whom were close to retirement age, announced that they would still be voting no on Thursday’s referendum.
Jan and Marve Happel felt that even though the budget had been greatly reduced from the original budget, from more than six percent to the current less than one percent, they would still be voting no.
When asked why she would vote no, Jan Happel said it was not about the money, “It’s the principle of the thing.”
The Happels said they were unhappy with the original budget and were still not impressed with the amount it had been reduced to. Marve Happel said he felt that there were too many pieces missing in the communication between the voters and the administration, and he felt there was a lack of openness.
Another resident, Walt Motyka, felt the meeting itself was worthwhile. “It was a very good venting. The new Board of Ed is listening,” he said.
Motyka said he sensed that there has been a loss of confidence in the town, and he felt that loss was at least partially why the budget had not yet passed.
Wayne Addessi, one of those who attended the meeting,
Addessi predicts another no vote on Thursday, and said he believes the issue was more than about the increase. He said, “None of us would be sitting here if the economy was great. We are telling the town to put on the brakes.”
Llodra came out of the meeting and said, “People are living in an environment of more needs and less finances. We have to have a different, and far more innovative way, to approach spending in the future. We have to really look at the way we are doing things. Is everything in the budget value-added? Or is it time to weed the garden?”
The remaining dates for Office Hours with the First Selectman and other officials are:
- Tuesday, July 10, 5-6:30 p.m.
- Wednesday, July 11, 5-6:30 p.m.
Addessi also asks residents to take one more poll:
[Editor's note: This article was updated to correct the spelling of Board of Education Chairman Debbie Leidlein's name and to clarify that Finance Director Robert Tait was not in Monday's Office Hours meeting with residents as was originally reported.]