Republican RTM members to seek budget cuts
The Republican caucus of the Representative Town Meeting (RTM) said Monday that it will try to reduce the proposed town operating budget for the 2010-11 fiscal year at next Monday's annual budget meeting, but leave the proposed Board of Education budget as it stands.
Republican members gave no specifics as to how much they would try to cut from the proposed $86.3 million town operating budget -- which has been pared down by the Board of Selectmen and the Board of Finance already -- or from where in the budget those cuts would come.
RTM Majority Leader Jamie Millington, R-9, said the party is still reviewing line items in the proposed budget and hopes to give details about the potential cuts by the end of the week.
The delay is miffing Democratic RTM members who say that without the details now, neither they, nor the public, nor the town's department heads will have sufficient time to fight cuts which could affect them.
"We've had a long period of time to discuss these things and the time was [Monday] night to provide the numbers and the actual data on which line items to be cut," said Cristin McCarthy Vahey, D-6, the RTM minority leader.
Millington said his caucus' increased size over previous years -- last November's election gave Republicans 38 of the RTM's 50 seats, a 16-seat jump -- has meant there are far more opinions and budget-paring ideas for party members to consider than they have in years past.
"There's a misconception that this is an easy task, but the line items can be very vague and require a lot of research," Millington said. "We're not trying to withhold any information. The bottom line is when we step forward with information, we have to make sure it's quality and accurate and that we're ready to follow through with it."
One option floated Monday would be to roll back non-contractual expenses from each of the town's departments. First Selectman Ken Flatto on Tuesday dismissed that idea, saying there is "very little wiggle room" in the department budgets, because they've been reduced to bare essentials over the past few years.
"Last year, the cuts went beyond discretionary spending and we had to reduce the town workforce," he said. "If there are, say, five fewer workers in the public works department, then there's one less crew available to do work like fixing potholes."
Millington, however, seemed confident that the Republican caucus will find some spots to make cuts without hurting town services or reducing its workforce. He said that it would be unrealistic to find enough cuts to bring the overall tax increase for the coming fiscal year to 0 percent.
In the absence of new cuts coming on Monday night, taxes will go up about 2 percent during the 2010-11 fiscal year, based on the budget that was approved earlier this month by the Board of Finance of $251,734,722 -- an increase of about $1.38 million over the current fiscal year.
McCarthy Vahey said it was "welcome news" that the Republicans expressed no desire to touch the proposed Board of Education budget, which, at $141.6 million, is already $3 million less than was initially proposed.
"We feel that any further cuts there would have possibly impacted classroom size and really created some hardships within the Board of Education, based on the information we were given from the superintendent and members of the Board of Education," Millington said.