Fairfield RTM grapples with GOP's proposed budget cuts
A packed Representative Town Meeting turned tense Monday night as members wrestled with potential cuts to the $264 million municipal spending package for 2011-12.
When Majority Leader James Millington got up to present the Republican's proposed cuts -- including another $1.2 million to the Board of Education budget -- that had been generated by small "focus" groups, he not only didn't have enough copies of the spreadsheet for the audience, there also weren't copies for the 12 Democrats on the RTM who weren't privy to those "focus" meetings.
When questioned by Democrat Patti Dyer, Millington suggested that those Democrats could sit next to a Republican member to get a look at the proposed cuts. Or, he said, he could just give the proposed bottom line for the spending package, but said last year the GOP got chided for doing that. Millington also said some of the numbers need to be tweaked, and assured RTM members that copies would be emailed to them and the town's department heads, he hoped by Tuesday afternoon.
The RTM will vote on the town's budget for the new fiscal year when it meets at 8 p.m. next Monday, a meeting for now still scheduled at Osborn Hill School, though Moderator Jeffrey Steele said he will try to find a bigger venue.
In addition to the $1.2 million proposed to be cut from the Board of Education's $146.4 million budget, the spreadsheets showed $764,488 in cuts to the town side of the budget.
Two other members -- William Llewelyn and Ann Stamler -- proposed additional cuts. Llewelyn wants $198,826 set aside for attendance and longevity bonuses cut from the overtime accounts of departments that hand out those bonuses, which are included in employee contracts.
"If we continue with 4.9 percent increases, in three to eight years it's going to be a $360 million budget," he said.
Stamler, who wasn't sure if some of her proposed cuts were included in the GOP spreadsheet of spending reductions because details were not listed, read a list of 15 cuts from the town side totaling $263,864.
It was almost midnight when the audience got to speak, and for most of those who did, the $1.2 million cut proposed in the education budget was too much. The Board of Selectmen and Board of Finance have already reduced the 2011-12 school board request by $2 million.
Rhoda Avenue resident Kenneth Lee said, "At the current estimated mill rate of 22.51, that $2 million cut reduced taxes by roughly $19 per hundred thousand dollars of assessment. For me personally that means this year I get around one and half tanks of gas for my soccer mom van at today's prices, who knows about tomorrow's prices." If having $3 or $4 a month to spend results in a less effective school system, priorities need to be re-examined, Lee said.
But Spruce Street resident Gaylord Meyer said she hopes the RTM will make a "moral decision" on spending.
"These are tough times," she said "Everybody's got to give." She said while most people favor a strong school system, "you can't keep throwing money into an empty pit. Vote `no' and go after the contracts, that's where the problems is. It's in the contracts, send them back."
While some speakers called for deeper cuts to the school budget, the majority of the audience urged that no further cuts be made to either part of the budget.
First Selectman Kenneth Flatto, who plans to leave office for a state job after the budget vote, said many of the town-side budgets proposed by the Republicans would bring departmental spending levels below current levels.
Board of Finance Chairman Thomas Flynn said of the overall $12.5 million increase in municipal spending, $10.8 million -- or 87 percent -- is linked to personnel costs.