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In Hopes of Passing New Budget, Council Reduces Proposed Tax Increase [CORRECTED]

As modified at by the Legislative Council, the proposed budget goes from carrying a 0.91% tax increase to 0.69%.

[Note from Patch Regional Editor Gary Jeanfaivre: The original article incorrectly reported that funds were added to the budget. We are stunned and embarrassed by our mistake, and deeply apologize for the confusion we have clearly caused. We take full responsibility for that, and have set up plans to prevent this from reoccurring. Moving forward, any articles that deal with town government issues will get a full edit prior to publication. Here is my email and phone number should anyone have any questions or concerns: Gary Jeanfaivre, Patch Regional Editor, gary.jeanfaivre@patch.com, 203-556-0777]

Compromise was the call word at the June 27th Legislative Council meeting, with both residents and council members agreeing that a budget was needed that would pass. Whether more money was added or more taken away -- and where those funds would come from -- proved to the sticking point.

In the end, though, the Legislative Council voted to reduce the planned contribution to the fund balance by $100,000, and spending was decreased through a $100,000 deduction to the contingency fund; that $200,000 changed the proposed rate of tax increase from 0.91% to 0.69%.

This decision was not without concern, as noted by John Kortze, chairman of the Finance Committee. He came in at the end of the five-hour meeting and advised the Legislative Council that these kinds of decisions would have been best made by calling a special meeting with the Board of Finance.   

The decision to take $100,000 from the fund balance came with great consternation by several of the council members, who feared the town would suffer with higher interest rates over several years.

Taking $100,000 from the town’s contingency budget was not without concern to town officials too, since it leaves $250,000 for emergencies such as might occur with extreme weather.

Legislative Council member Mitch Bolinsky called for the entire $200,000 to come from the contingency budget, however First Selectman Patricia Llodra said, “That would only leave $150,000 for the entire town. We might have to come back here for appropriation if we find ourselves in trouble, and would have to find a way to build that back up next year.”

Some council members had called for more cuts, with no additional money going toward education. Board of Education Debbie Leidlein countered, “I think it is a tremendous mistake. The BOE has worked hard to remove $1.7 million from the budget without effecting services, but with another $200,000 reduction, we will be going backwards.”

Llodra agreed. “This is one of the areas where Newtown defines itself. It’s [education] is one of our core values.”  

Compromise came in the form of a list of cuts that the BOE and principals of the schools agreed would not effect services. Some of those cuts included eliminating the Transportation Coordinators, which would be a role now assumed by the All Star Bus Company. Unemployment, changing an assistant principal to a lead teacher and lowering the amount budgeted to cover workmen's compensation were also areas of reduction.

The final motion carried with an 8-3 vote.

Council member Mitch Bolinski said, “Desperate times call for desperate measures.”

Mr D. June 29, 2012 at 12:31 PM
Best post to date on this subject.
Dee Dee June 29, 2012 at 12:38 PM
I agree! I do not understand the huge expenses on the town side at all! We are all taking cuts, doing more with less and yet all our leaders are offering us is to cut the education budget while preserving their monetary standings. Personally I cannot fathom there is not at least 10% in the town side that could be cut! I will vote no until I see REAL sacrifice on the town side and if there is not - I intend to vote them all OUT!
onceuponanewtown June 29, 2012 at 12:41 PM
When values of home brought the GL up - the town & BOE spent and borrowed more never planning for times like this. There were people trying to warn of this...no one was listening! Now what!
onceuponanewtown June 29, 2012 at 12:51 PM
Wouldn't being a town that is willing to sacrifice to bring spending lower than taxation reflect a healthy, wise community and make it more attractable as a community and a place for business? This could be done by reducing School Administration & Government Employed (a combined1/3) without too much pain, it would just mean everyone would have to work a little harder and leaner; this is already being done in the public sector and has been for years now.
Teacher June 29, 2012 at 03:33 PM
I don't think those numbers are totally accurate...but now I can't find the document I saw with the numbers to compare them. Does anyone have the actual budget increase percentages year to year? I'm not saying I don't believe you, but I'm also not sure the tax bill is a reliable source since valuations might have changed, etc. I want to see the actual percentages the town voted on in referenda. Do you have that?
Teacher June 29, 2012 at 03:35 PM
Also, let's say they are accurate...check out http://inflationdata.com/inflation/inflation_rate/historicalinflation.aspx to make a more balanced comparison. Yes, some years drastically outpaced inflation, and then some years were below inflation rates.
Dee Dee June 29, 2012 at 04:48 PM
Teacher - All that is relevant is taxes have gone up dramatically. Currently the population's capacity to pay has declined and continues to decline. Furthermore the taxpayers are sacrificing in their own budgets. Thus it is totally within reason for the taxpayer to expect that those whom salaries they pay sacrifice as well. There should be absolutely NO INCREASE in taxes and the government should live within its means. END OF STORY I would suggest a proposed tax decrease would make the most sense. Furloughs, unpaid leaves days/off, not filling positions that have employees leaving or retiring.... alot can be done if only it was accepted on the part of our government that it NEEDS to be done. I love our teachers but my boss loves me too and still he is asking more of me for less. Its a fact of life.
james dolan July 01, 2012 at 02:34 AM
0 increase or NO. you are there to represent US. after 4 votes which part of NO is confusing? newtown is suffering plummeting housing prices more than other communities becase of the taxes. any increase, vote NO. school enrollment is dropping fast. we are taxing families out
Bruce Walczak TheNewtownRooster.com July 05, 2012 at 02:32 PM
Gary, The Patch was not the only one to get confused during this budget. Mistakes happen, and I feel certain almost all of us in Newtown understand that.
Bruce Walczak TheNewtownRooster.com July 05, 2012 at 02:37 PM
The municipal budget has $250,000 in a contingency fund. This is what you call a just in case fund, just in case we spend more than the budget gave us we have this "extra" money. The education budget does not have a contingency, they have to live within their budget, The town should do the same. Until these pockets of money are fully disclosed and removed or transferred to the education budget which was unfairly cut by 1 Million I'm voting no.
Paul Alexander July 05, 2012 at 02:48 PM
Bruce, An Income Statement has two sides; Income and Expenses. Where your argument, and that of most education supporters in town, fails is that you will ONLY consider the Income side of the Income Statement and ALWAYS ignore the Expense side. MORE INCOME and all will be well! Your argument will continue to lack credibility until you address BOTH sides of the school’s Income Statement. The same applies to the Town side budget.
Carey Schierloh July 05, 2012 at 02:51 PM
The $250,000 in the contingency fund is for emergencies for either the town OR the school district. This was explained by Pat Llodra at the last LC meeting. The money is not hidden. It is fully disclosed on page 257 of the Budget.
Bruce Walczak TheNewtownRooster.com July 05, 2012 at 04:46 PM
Carey, there is no real reson for this fund. They can manage to the budget and if an emergency comes us they can ask for a special appropriation. In this type of taxpayer revolt we can simply manage the budget and free up this money.
Bruce Walczak TheNewtownRooster.com July 05, 2012 at 04:50 PM
Paul both side you are right. The school expense side was cut $700,000 by the BOF and another 1 Million by the LC. The town budget took a minor hit from operating expenses, much more can be cut. This year the town has a surplus created by re-bonding which is $700,000 alone.
Paul Alexander July 05, 2012 at 05:01 PM
Surpluses generated by refinancing public debt should be returned to the taxpayer as a rebate, not added to either the town or school budgets as a slush fund or anything else. Otherwise it is simply a future tax increase.
Bruce Walczak TheNewtownRooster.com July 05, 2012 at 05:13 PM
Carey, thats what the special appropriation fund is for. No need to build into the budget a just in case amount of $250,000, Remember they also have an extra $270,000 in the budget for future purchases, maybe that should also be cut until the taxpayers are ready for the capital expense. They need to manage the municipal budget expenditures to budgeted income same as the rest of us.
Alex Tytler July 05, 2012 at 05:13 PM
Bruce the school system has hundreds fewer students and millions more in spending in the last 5 years. Plenty of room for deep cuts.
Mary Ann Jacob July 05, 2012 at 05:21 PM
Bruce, you are correct that if an emergency comes a special appropriation request is the appropriate route, however, the money would come from contingency if approved.
Paul Alexander July 05, 2012 at 05:44 PM
Budget "Contingency Funds" are a scam on the taxpayer and a very clever, politically safe, method to ensure larger future budgets without raising taxes directly. How so? Let’s use an example.
Paul Alexander July 05, 2012 at 05:44 PM
The town refinances a bond issue at a lower interest rate. The politicians tell the taxpayers the approved bond referendum will result in “savings”; which is a half-truth. Yes, the new, refinanced bond will have a lower interest cost and therein lies the savings. BUT, the politicians KEEP that savings and slide it into a “contingency fund” line item of the budget. The overall budget dollar total remains the same. NO DOLARS LEAVE THE BUDGET due to the bond being refinanced a lower rate. The following year, and the year after, and the year after….all future budget increases compound that prior years “savings” that were retained in the budget as a contingency fund. What SHOULD happen is that ANY budget surplus should be rebated directly to the taxpayers. Those “saved” dollars NEED to leave the budget to avoid the negative (to the taxpayer) effects of compounding those dollars in the budget in later years. IF a contingency arises then a special appropriation can be levied THAT WILL NOT raise the annual budget and hence WILL NOT be compounded higher in future years. If the budget is raised 6% the year after the “savings” are realized then your tax burden in real dollars is higher due to those “savings” being retained in the budget. If those savings came out of the budget as a rebate, lowering the overall budget dollar amount, then the same percentage increase in the follow on budget yields a lower DOLLAR tax increase to the taxpayer.
Bruce Walczak TheNewtownRooster.com July 05, 2012 at 06:13 PM
Its all part of what I called the "shell game". They say is all disclosed but not many people understand how it works, thanks Paul for your comments.
DAY July 05, 2012 at 06:33 PM
Well said, Paul. Thank you.
Paul Alexander July 05, 2012 at 06:51 PM
"Contingency Funds" just tempt the spenders of other people's money to do what they do best. If they don’t spend it directly then they use it to leverage more borrowing. Get ALL contingency savings out of the budget and rebated back to the taxpayers who earned it. And definitly don't move it to another budget line item like the school. The town needs to return to the more fiscally disciplined habit of asking (RARELY) for a special appropriation when it’s a rainy day.
Jan Andras July 05, 2012 at 06:52 PM
The contingency fund was used when the Hawley School boiler broke down and had to be replaced. It was also used for the extraordinary expenses that had to be covered foro the oil leak at Reed School. It is to cover items like that plus a tougher than usual winter.
Paul Alexander July 05, 2012 at 06:59 PM
All valid, and unexpected, expenses for sure. Keeping a contingency fund is a very taxpayer unfriendly way to address those issues. A special appropriation(s) is a better, more taxpayer friendly solution.
DaveD July 05, 2012 at 08:14 PM
This town has 2 major issues 1) there is way to much fat in the budget and 2) and there a serious lack of leadership and "vision"... For too long the town has hid their budget behind the schools budget and to ensure that the budget passes, they say this like “if this doesn’t pass then your kid won’t learn to read”… well they have gotten away with it for years and now they have been caught, NO means NO… I have read here that some people say its ONLY $55… then I have an idea... If its “ONLY $55 then let’s make it optional, those that want to pay, let them pay, those that don’t, don’t… we can call it a donation, you can pay mine… let’s see how many people that are pro-increase would actually pay… despite what our president wants and is trying to do, this is NOT a socialistic society… you cant tell me what I “should” do with my money The town cannot waste the best piece of land it owns by using it for town buildings...thus generating ZERO tax income, in 2 places (the new buildings and the old) regardless if we "rent out" the old town hall...thats BS). FFH needs to be made over into a REVENUE GENERATING "business" which brings people into the town to spend money, you dont need to go to Harvard business school to figure this out! More people and business = more money
DaveD July 05, 2012 at 08:14 PM
Also can someone please explain to me how and why we are spending over 1 mil $ on the library! REALLY! I get the fact that its one of those things that we have to have, but 1 MILLION dollars! you cant tell me its "for the children" thats nonsense, every school has one in the building (which I’m sure we are over spending on as well) I have lived in this town for 13 yrs (and yes i went to school here) i have never even been into that library, and do you know why, because i have a computer and in todays world everything you need, you can get on a computer, and when I did need it I used the high schools... now some people will argue that, well, some people dont have computers, and that may be, but it is way cheaper if the town just bought those folks a computer. it certainly would cost 1 million dollars! The transfer station… several bordering towns (including oxford and Shelton), as a resident you don’t have to pay to use it…imagine that! Because the town cant seem to run it maybe it should be privatized, that way at least if we still had to pay for it, the town would be making money in taxes for a Business, isn’t that a concept!
DaveD July 05, 2012 at 08:15 PM
I am the first one to say if someone doesn’t like it here there are many other towns in this state to live… problem is you can sell your house because the values are down and THE TAXES ARE TO HIGH, that people don’t want to buy your house…it’s a catch 22, so in the meantime seems we have to try and fight the good fight. Some are worth it and this one certainly is… The town needs to be run like a business and currently the people in place are not doing that, they don’t want to offend anyone by making the tough decisions… if you cant make those decisions then step aside and let someone else do it Bottom line is even at the worst economic down turn since the 20's the taxes keep going up... so is it safe to say they will NEVER go down or even stay flat NO MEANS NO, not sure how else to say it.
Les July 06, 2012 at 08:03 PM
The library is open way too many hours. They are open over 55 hours a week during the summer and over 60 hours a week the rest of the year. Is there any reason they need to stay open till 8:00 PM 4 nights a week? I think not. How much would staggering and cutting back to a reasonable 40 hours a week would save us?
Sam Mihailoff July 06, 2012 at 08:08 PM
Burn the books...buy everyone IPads and Kindles...keep those Chinese factories running

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