The Representative Town Meeting began its review of the $251.9 million budget proposed for 2012-13 in fits and starts Monday, cutting $250,000 from the education budget and $27,810 for a mower for the H. Smith Richardson Golf Course by the time the session adjourned a little before 11:30 p.m.

But that was just Round I. The RTM was scheduled to reconvene at 8 p.m. Tuesday night in Fairfield Warde High School to continue the process of hammering out a budget that takes effect July 1.

Several hundred residents were on hand Monday, along with town and school department heads as a divided RTM -- at one point, the legislative could not even agree on adjourning -- struggled with a spending plan that, if untouched, would mean a 4.8 percent tax increase.

Though the GOP caucus at the last RTM meeting said it would propose a 2 percent across-the-board reduction to the budget request, that proposal appeared dead right from the start of the meeting. The inventory of the 2 percent cut's impact prepared by department heads ranged from cutting library hours to the loss of 25 ot 30 teachers to eliminating the household hazardous waste collection.

After about an hour of general discussion, the RTM voted to approve the budget without any cuts. That failed, with 20 in favor and 29 opposed.

That left Moderator Jeff Steele a perplexed. "Obviously, we're in waters we haven't been in before," he said after the vote tally was announced. RTM members then took a recess so both parties' caucus could meet privately.

When they came back to the floor, a motion to reconsider the full budget was approved by all members except those in District 1, whose constituents remain unhappy with the increase in their property values following the 2010 revaluation.

Majority Leader David Becker R-1, then suggested that savings could be made by town officials working with the Board of Education to eliminate "redundancies" in areas like human resources and maintenance. "In the absence of an administration willing to do this, I would propose amending the budget of the Board of Education by $250,000," he said.

He said he thought that the anticipated retirements among education employees would provide about $280,000 in savings, more than making up for the $250,000 reduction.

"For me, it's not enough," said Carolyn Richmond, R-1. "If you can't cut 0.167 percent out of your budget, then you're not a very good manager."

Minority Leader Hal Schwartz, D-7, said the Board of Selectmen cut $250,000 from the school budget, but it was later restored by the Board of Finance.

"Well, cutting $250,000 is a lot better than cutting $2.9 million," said Josh Garskoff, D-5, "but I still don't support it." He said once a program is cut from the school system, "it's something that isn't coming back." The vote to cut $250,000 from the education budget request was approved 27-21, with Michael Herley, R-1, abstaining.

The only other motion that the RTM voted on before adjourning around 11:15 p.m. Monday was a proposal to cut a mower for the golf course. The $27,810 reduction was approved 35-14. Recreation Director Gerald Lombardo said golf course managers could make it through another season with an old mower, but did say it is "consistently in the shop" being fixed.

"Gerry said the magic words, `We'll get by,' " said Ed Bateson, R-3. "I'm going to take you up on it; kicking it down the road, I do it all the time in life."

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