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Sunday, November 23, 2014

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Letter: School advocates don't grasp budget process

Updated 12:09 pm, Friday, May 16, 2014
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Some of those who spoke at the May 6 RTM budget meeting urged that the education budget be passed as presented because it had already been approved by the boards of Education, Selectmen and Finance. That argument reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of the municipal decision-making process.

Under the town charter, the RTM is given the final say on the budget because its members represent Fairfield's neighborhoods. Based on their close relationships with constituents, it is their responsibility -- regardless of what town boards decide -- to adopt a budget that they believe is in the best long-term interests of the town. Town boards assume a macro view, but the final say rests at the micro level with our RTM representatives. They best reflect the concerns and aspirations of our diverse neighborhoods. That bedrock principle of town government assures that there is very direct local input into what public services we need and can afford.

Schools are important in Fairfield. We have a critical responsibility to give children the best possible education. However, the importance of educational spending must be balanced with needs of other public services and with our ability to pay for all services. We have exceptional police and fire services in Fairfield. Our Recreation Department provides excellent leisure opportunities, and our Department of Public Works keeps our infrastructure in great condition. Fairfield is about more than its public schools, and our RTM must balance the needs of all town services when adopting a budget funded by a level of taxation they think is reasonable.

The majority of Fairfield homes do not have children in our public schools, and so it is important that everyone who protested the small reduction in the proposed Education budget understand that a healthy town requires a balance of service funding and that this balance should be achieved through an open, friendly dialogue. It is unfortunate that the RTM budget session was so contentious, including School Superintendent Title's lack of graciousness in response to compliments from members of the RTM. It is not, however, my intention to criticize Superintendent Title. Paraphrasing Shakespeare's Mark Antony, he is an honorable man.

We must work together to assure that our tax rate is reasonable and that tax dollars are spent in the fairest and most balanced way possible. The RTM's efforts to reduce budget increases are not trivial to the average taxpayer. If we maintained the proposed rate of spending, by Fairfield's 400th anniversary the budget would exceed half a billion dollars, a staggering sum to be paid by our homeowners. Fiscal restraint is as critical to the future of Fairfield as its ability to continue to provide high-quality services.

I believe the agreed three per cent increase in school spending as passed by the RTM is both reasonable and prudent, and Superintendent Title indicated tthat all the reductions made to the $6 million increase he originally proposed could be absorbed with "minimal impact."

Thank you, RTM members, for a careful, considerate job well-done.

Jan R. Reber

Fairfield