Tetreau: Fairfield on firm footing, but challenges ahead
Published 3:23 pm, Thursday, February 2, 2017
FAIRFIELD — The first selectman said the town is doing well, but warned of difficult times ahead in his annual State of the Town address Monday to the Representative Town Meeting. First Selectman Mike Tetreau stressed the need to work together.
“We live in a time of great uncertainty at the federal government level and the state government level,” he said. “We owe it to our citizens to provide the best demonstration of teamwork. We should be setting an example for our state and federal governments on how working together provides the best results for our citizens. This is really in the best tradition of Fairfield government.”
Tetreau said the town faces “unprecedented” reductions in revenue, not only due to significant cuts in state aid, but also the loss of tax revenue with the former General Electric property sold to Sacred Heart University.
“A major component of the revenue shortfall is caused by instability at the state level,” Tetreau said. The “dramatic and immediate” reductions in state aid have given the town little time to adjust, he said.
“How we choose to make up these losses will impact our quality of life,” the first selectman said. “Fairfield has a strong financial foundation as validated by our AAA credit rating. We are better positioned than most towns in the state to withstand reductions.”
To help deal with this uncertainty, Tetreau said, the Board of Selectmen has begun discussion on a townwide strategic plan.
“There are important decisions to be made on how we handle the revenue shortfalls,” Tetreau said, as they question how much they should cut from the budget and which services should be reduced.
“This is our opportunity. This is our time,” Tetreau said. “How we choose to come together will define who we are as individuals, as leaders and as a community.”
The first selectman also went through the different town departments, highlighting accomplishments, from green energy and sustainability to the town qualifying for a 10 percent reduction in flood insurance.
“I am grateful to our town department managers and employees for their professionalism in raising service levels, productivity and overall efficiencies,” Tetreau said.
In a response to the first selectman’s address, RTM Majority Leader Tom McCarthy spoke after the meeting was over, delivering the Republican version of the State of the Town.
McCarthy, too, said there is much too be proud of, but warned of challenges ahead.
“While we share in a sense of pride and accomplishment in the progress Fairfield has made, today we must look honestly at the economic challenges which we face,” McCarthy said. “While the Democrats in Hartford bear much of the responsibility for the problems facing municipalities across the state, we must all share the responsibility of addressing the challenges which lie before us in the coming years.”
With the looming state aid reductions and the loss of tax revenue from GE, “it would be unfair and irresponsible to simply pass along that burden to Fairfield’s taxpayers,” McCarthy said. He said they echo the Board of Finance chairman’s request to all town departments to find greater efficiencies.
“Now more than ever we need to work together to reduce spending, while preserving the level of services that our citizens deserve,” McCarthy said. “We call upon department heads for creative solutions that will maintain and prioritize quality service, while at the same time expending less resource.”
His speech asked school administration and the Board of Education “to rethink how they address unfunded mandates” and encouraged them to implement savings where appropriate. McCarthy asked all of the town’s unions to “come to the bargaining table with open minds and help us in reducing the town’s long-term liabilities.”
McCarthy said the GOP supports the tax relief program for the town’s senior citizens, which he called one of the most generous in the state. But, he said, the town is still losing seniors “because ever-increasing taxes have made our town unaffordable for many of them.”