As GOP remains mum on budget cuts, public will get a say before final vote
Updated 8:18 pm, Tuesday, April 23, 2013
The request from the Representative Town Meeting's moderator was right there on the agenda -- any RTM members who intend to make cuts to the proposed $280 million budget for 2013-14 at the May 6 meeting were asked to make their intentions known Monday night "in order to provide reasonable notice of all intended motions to all affected persons."
MacKenzie wants to cut $2.2 million, splitting it between the Board of Education and the town side of the spending package. However, he did not have a list of where he would suggest the cuts in municipal spending.
"There's fat in every budget, and Fairfield's no different," he said. "MacKenzie wants the projected tax increase for the new fiscal year to be no more than 2 percent. Prior to RTM action restoring the Pequot funding, the tax increase stood at 2.91 percent, which would increase the tax rate from 23.37 to 24.05 mills.
However, Ann Stamler, D-5, cautioned against simply picking a target number.
"I don't think we were elected to keep our taxes at a certain rate," she said. "We were elected to make sure services are delivered to our citizens." She said if the Republican RTM members were not going to release their list of proposed cuts until the budget meeting, then the public should be allowed to comment at that time.
"The budget has come a long way," Majority Leader Joseph Palmer, R-4, said. "We also believe taxpayers have made it clear they can not longer afford tax increases that far exceed the rate of inflation."
He said the GOP caucus is "exploring ideas" for reducing the budget, and will examine the spending plan further in the two weeks before the May 6 meeting. "We look forward to hearing comments from residents."
Democrats, most of whom indicated they do not favor any more spending cuts, took issue with the Republican stance of not revealing their proposed cuts at the Monday meeting.
Schwartz said in the 21 days since the finance board cut the Pequot funding, the Republican caucus was able to agree to unanimously support restoration of that money, but has yet to make specific suggestions about where they might want to make reductions.
"This is my 10th budget meeting," Schwartz said. "For eight years we've come up with cuts. All of a sudden now we can't decide? ... I don't think it's fair. Let's do what we're supposed to do."
Moderator Jeffrey Steele, R-2, said there is no requirement in the legislative body's rules or the town charter that any cuts must be proposed prior to the annual budget meeting. "The point of having the public speak tonight to is give you a forum," Steele said, not necessarily to address any particular cut.
"Many people also may want to comment on a proposed cut," Josh Garskof, D-5, said. He said if the GOP members did not plan to detail any proposed cuts Monday night, the public should have an opportunity to address them prior to the final May 6 vote.
Garskof noted that many took issue with the way the Pequot Library funding was cut by the Board of Finance, with no opportunity for public input.
David Becker, R-1, said neither the Board of Selectmen nor the Board of Finance hear public comment on the night that they take their votes on a new budget. "The RTM doesn't either," he said. "The night for the public to speak is tonight."
Steele said in light of the fact that the Republicans were not prepared to reveal any cuts Monday, he would allow the public to comment May 6 on proposed cuts.
Sasco Hill Road resident Bud Morton said the tax increase in the new fiscal year should be no more than 2 percent. "Making cuts is particularly difficult after long periods when cuts were not necessary," he said, adding over 14 years, taxes in town have increased two and a half times the rate of inflation, driving people out of Fairfield.
Another resident, Katherine Giff, said she doesn't want her elected officers to "choose some number. If I wanted to choose some number, I'd hire a bean counter. ... I elect officials to lead."
Shrub Oak Lane resident and local taxpayer group leader Kate Daniello said her group has received hundreds of emails from residents asking that the budget be reduced and urged First Selectman Michael Tetreau and Superintendent of Schools David Title to "come together and find efficiencies that will keep our community going forward in a positive way."
Toilsome Hill Road resident Mike Kelly, a father of four, said he didn't move to Fairfield for the Pequot Library or for senior citizen benefits. "I moved here to provide a good education for my four children," he said. "I am tired of hearing people from District 1 complain. My taxes go up also; I don't think one district should determine the taxes."
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