RTM quickly OKs $294M budget, despite looming state cuts
FAIRFIELD — With no debate on the $293.5 million budget itself, the Representative Town Meeting on Monday unanimously approved the 2016-17 town budget as presented, and did it in under a half an hour — despite the state fiscal crisis that could cost the town millions in aid.
It was in sharp contrast to the RTM’s marathon session two years ago that lasted until 3 a.m. the day after it began, and the approval with uncertainty over whether $4.5 million in state aid initially proposed will be restored. Under a scenario proposed several weeks ago by Gov. Dannel Malloy, the town would have lost all $3.5 million in Educational Cost Sharing aid and another $1 million sales tax sharing revenue, but continuing negotiations over alternate spending plans are likely to change those recommendations.
Although the RTM’s Republican caucus had indicated prior to Monday’s meeting that it supported postponing action on the town’s spending plan until the General Assembly adopts a state budget, Michael Herley, R-10, began the session by asking that the RTM, in a show of bipartisan support, adopt the recommended town budget without any cuts, rather than wait.
“I think tonight we really need to try and come together and put aside politics,” Herley said. “The RTM Republicans are fully prepared to support the town and education budgets in their entirety without reductions ... Join us in a bipartisan fashion.”
The Board of Finance is scheduled to meet Thursday to set the mill rate for the fiscal year that starts July 1. Once the tax rate is set, it cannot be changed to make up for lost state revenue.
Herley said adopting the town budget now sends a message to state officials that they should restore the ECS money because “not only is it the right thing for our schools, but it begs the question of fairness.”
Should the town have to adjust its budget following the state’s action, Herley said First Selectman Michael Tetreau and Board of Education Chairman Phil Dwyer “could come up with a plan to mitigate” those cuts.
Philip Pires, D-4, attempted to get the RTM to adjourn the budget meeting until its regular May 23 meeting.
“Our caucus has never supported cutting the education budget,” Pires said, adding that a vote to postpone the budget is not the same thing as a vote to cut the budget.
With a new tax rate locked in, Pires said, that will only mean services will have to be cut if the town ends up with less state revenue than was budgeted. “We cannot pass a budget without knowing,” he said.
There was back and forth between Pires, Moderator Pam Iacono and Town Attorney Stanton Lesser over whether the body needed to vote to suspend the rules to act on a motion to adjourn to May 23. Lesser said the body did not, Iacono said it did, and Pires appealed Iacono’s ruling to the body. The appeal to the body to overturn Iacono’s ruling failed in a tie vote, as did Pires’ subsequent motion to suspend the rules.
Although the vote to adopt the budget was unanimous, not all RTM members were satisfied with the action.
“What happened tonight was not a bipartisan effort, it was a deliberate and well-executed Republican plan to prevent the very real dangers of this course of action from being publicly aired,” said Ken Lee, D-9. “I am very disappointed in my Republican colleagues for refusing to allow any discussion in a situation where there is a very real danger of a multi-million dollar shortfall in state funding."