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Public frustrated as RTM stays mum on potential budget cuts

Published 2:45 pm, Wednesday, April 30, 2014
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The public at the Representative Town Meeting this week expected to hear where the legislative body's members may be considering cuts to the proposed municipal budget for 2014-15.

Instead, those attending ended up listening mostly to themselves Monday night as the RTM failed to detail any anticipated cuts in the budget, which now stands at $286,015,872.

Although not a requirement, in recent years, the agenda for the RTM's session prior to the budget vote asks that any members who plan to propose cuts at the budget meeting next Monday make their intentions known. But for the last several years, that has not happened.

"I went to the public comment forum at the Board of Finance," said Dorene Herron, a Forrest Avenue resident. "RTM members were quick to jump up then and propose cuts then, when it was an opportunity for non-elected officials. I came to hear what you had to say."

The proposed budget, which now carries a 2.38 percent tax increase, includes an education budget of $156,281,057 after the Board of Finance transferred $500,000 earmarked for its internal service fund to the town side of the budget.

If the budget is adopted with no more cuts, the tax rate would rise from 23.93 mills to 24.50 mills.

Hilly Dunn, sporting a tee-shirt urging no cuts to the education budget, told the RTM, "This is shameful. You are here to discuss the budget."

Many residents who got up to voice support for passing the budget at its current level said they had already sent emails to their representatives voicing their opinions, and Hunter Road resident Traci Garceau went so far as to give the RTM her email address. "I would like to know what you think," she said, "I don't know why you didn't speak tonight. I would like to know what you think and what your positions are. I look forward to your emailing me with you response."

Mary Hogue told RTM members that she had come to listen to them since she had already sent them her comments, while Rhoda Avenue resident Ken Lee, a former District 10 representative, said, "If I didn't know better, I'd think you didn't want us to know what" they may be considering to cut.

With no idea where the budget might be headed, residents voiced support not only for the education allocation, but also municipal funding for services like the library system and the Senior Center.

There were some residents, like Bud Morton of Sasco Hill Road and Jim Bohan of Station Street, who urged the RTM to reduce the budget and limit the potential tax increase -- which will take effect July 1 -- to 1.5 percent.

"I'm here to advocate for the town," Morton said, citing a recent New York Times article that said while personal income is down more than 8 percent since 2007, the town's taxes have risen more than 20 percent in that same time period.

Bohan said the town's spending is "bloated," and said the RTM will have a tough choice to make Monday. The RTM, he said, can "order the Board of Education to work smarter or find someone who will. Tell them you want to keep this town alive."

The RTM is scheduled to act on the 2014-15 budget when it meets at 8 p.m. Monday in Fairfield Warde High School.

Detailed information on the proposed budget can be found here: http://bit.ly/PRqfap