Letters to the Editor: Not a typical year
Published 7:14 pm, Wednesday, February 15, 2017
Below is a transcript of remarks that I made at the December Board of Finance meeting after my re-election as Chairman. The remarks were not widely reported at the time, but given many of the articles/comments coming out from the State regarding the economic conditions and State budget pressures, I believe it is important that the remarks be shared more broadly.
I want to, first of all, thank my colleagues for your support to continue as your Chairman. It is not a job or an honor that I take lightly. As I have said many times previously, I am very proud to be a member of this body, proud to count you as friends and colleagues and work hard to ensure our board functions well.
In years past, I have stopped my comments there — but this is not a typical year and my comments are meant for a broader audience.
One of the things, that I am proudest of, in my 11 years on this board, is the proactive and leadership approach that this board has taken when confronting important financial issues that are or could impact the town. Pension issues, the global economic meltdown, the underfunding of some long-term liabilities, growing the town’s fund balance, investigating the Metro Center project, planning capital projects —- all of these are examples of issues where our board pressed for action, provided guidance and raised awareness.
Because of these actions, the town’s financial position has not only been preserved, but strengthened. Working with our colleagues on the Board of Selectman, the RTM and the Board of Education — as well as numerous department heads, we have done what was in the best financial interest of the town and its taxpayers time and time again.
As we plan for this next fiscal year, however, we face a new and growing threat in the form of a significant loss of revenue, (an unprecedented amount) —- first, from the loss of revenue coming back from the State and, second, the continued uncertainty from the loss of our single largest taxpayer, GE. If the revenue losses were just passed on to our tax payers to replace, it could mean a tax increase of between 1.25% and 1.75% before accounting for ANY spending increases.
These issues, while not of our making, are ours to help manage. The state, in years past, has taken the easy road — and have under-funded long term obligations, bonded significant sums of money and kicked the fiscal can down the road, as opposed to making the tough decisions that financial hardships require.
We should not and cannot do the same. Through talking with my colleagues on this board, no one wants to make the same mistakes as others and damage the town’s financial position. I know the Board of Selectman and the RTM share our concerns.
We must be diligent in this next budget process. We must ask the Department heads to review all of their processes/procedures/policies and services. They must review their operations for areas where they can be even more efficient than many of them already are.
We cannot simply ask the taxpayers of the town to make up the revenue shortfalls with increased taxes. Remember, through Income and Sales Taxes, our citizens already contribute over $260 million to the State of Connecticut. The town gets back under $8 million in direct annual revenue and that number is decreasing annually.
As the State looks to resolve its financial difficulties, the impact to our town and its citizens is likely to be even more negative.
I have spoken with the First Selectman and know that he has sent the message to town side department heads that their budgets need to be conservative and well thought out. I want to echo those comments and ask that they bring forth only new ideas on how we can be more efficient in the short-term.
I would also encourage the Board of Education to adopt that same line of thinking — to review all their policies/procedures and operations — including areas related to unfunded mandates from the State — to identify areas where they can reduce spending while preserving the quality of direct programs to the students of the town.
No one, on any board, wants to see the quality of town services or education suffer. This board has been particularly supportive of educational initiatives and investment in our schools — both capital improvements and operating budgets.
In the mid-term, I would encourage the Board of Selectman to act swiftly — to move forward with the longer term strategic plan for the town that myself — and many members of this board — have been advocating for — for quite some time. It is more imperative than ever that the operations of the town, the services provided and the very structure of the town operations be reviewed — with no sacred cows and every stone overturned.
So, as we face these unprecedented times — and revenue issues — we are asking, I am asking, the other town bodies, elected officials, department heads and town employees — to assist us in keeping Fairfield’s financial position strong — while understanding the significant pressures facing the town and our tax paying citizens who are under enormous pressures of their own and are looking for us to provide the appropriate leadership for all of us.
I have every confidence that this board will do its part — will be leaders on these issues — but we need a collective effort to make the right decisions.
I know we will do the right think for the citizens of our town.
Editor’s Note: Thomas Flynn is chairman of the Fairfield Board of Finance.
Support Raised Bill 6987
Last week I appeared at a hearing in Hartford by the State’s General Assembly Committee on Aging to give testimony on behalf of Fairfield Senior Advocates, a group committed to improving life for senior citizens in Connecticut.
Our purpose was to support “Raised Bill 6987” which would exempt state income tax on all Social Security benefits. This would give long-overdue tax relief to many seniors throughout Connecticut.
More than 74 legislators from both parties, representing more than 42% of the General Assembly, have now sponsored or co-signed bills proposing this action. We appreciate the efforts of our State representatives to move this issue forward, but we cannot be satisfied until a bill is released from Committee, voted on, and enacted into law.
Senior residents of our state generally live on fixed incomes, while taxes have risen much faster than the rate of inflation. This includes state taxes on social security income, other retirement income such as pensions, IRA’s, and 401K’s, and for some, estate taxes. At the same time, the seniors in our towns are also paying a disproportionate share of the high costs of education via their property taxes; disproportionate because they are essentially subsidizing education costs without having children in their town’s education system.
Connecticut is one of only four states losing population. When seniors leave Connecticut, so go their income taxes, sales and gasoline taxes, and of course we lose the revenue they supply to restaurants, supermarkets, health facilities, and other local businesses.
Only 12 other states tax social security benefits. Nearby states including Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania do not tax these benefits, and in some cases do not tax other retirement income as well. We need to make Connecticut a more affordable state so that our seniors can stay here.
We urge residents to write to their representatives to support elimination of this tax.
Special election shouldn’t cost town
Here is a radical idea that can save $20K in the town budget: This November, we, the voters of Fairfield, will be voting in a municipal election, most notably for a full slate of new RTM Members. With that in mind, why not have the town clerk schedule the controversial, but inevitable, special election for the Selectman on the same day?
That way the special election will cost nothing more than already on the docket for our democracy. The squeamish Board of Finance can avoid having to shift $20K from the contingency fund into the elections fund, too. One more slate on he ballot won’t add a dime to the cost of the November election.
Who among our Fairfield town political class has a problem with saving taxpayer money when it can be so easily saved?
Huge thanks to DPW
I would like send out a huge thank you to all the men and women who tirelessly worked at snow plowing and removal during this past storm, and all winter storms. While the rest of us were able to clear our homes and walks of snow, these folks are out there for us. They have to wait until their jobs are finished.
I would also like to thank our first responders, who have to brave these elements, and do so with no second thought. Thank you all for the tremendous job you do all year around!