Hines Sight / Town budget dollars -- and no sense
It's time to start thinking about gardening. But I'm worried about it. I'm not sure I am going to be able to afford to buy all that's necessary to begin -- plants, seeds, stakes, peat moss and manure. Hmmm, manure. Now that brings up what's been on my mind.
Our municipal budget. It stinks.
The budget-setting process is coming to a close. But what an unpleasant journey it has made thus far -- especially if you're an everyday resident watching it. To start, First Selectman Michael Tetreau proposed for fiscal year 2012-13 a budget of $272.6 million -- a 3.6 percent increase over the current fiscal year. Then the Board of Selectmen got its hands on it and increased (yes, you read that right) the budget to $273 million. After that, the Board of Finance -- making additions and subtractions-- ended up with a net increase (there's that word again) of $332,607. Now the proposed budget stands at $273.3 million -- a 3.9 percent increase.
And what this means for all of us is a 4 percent increase in our taxes starting July 1.
Can you afford that? I'm not sure I can. At least the bounty from my vegetable garden will keep me from starving as I am going to have to make cuts somewhere in my personal budget to accommodate 4 percent more in taxes. And food seems kind of essential.
If you look at the "major budget drivers" (which can be found on the town's website, www.fairfieldct.org), paving, contingency, worker's compensation and unemployment compensation take huge bites. The unemployment compensation budget is proposed to rise 87.5 percent from one year to the next -- and we're not even laying off any employees.
And why is that? Have our administrations ever taken a good look at the number of people employed by the Town of Fairfield? I have, and there are hundreds. Do we need them all? Do you know there are department heads and deputies and assistants and assistants' assistants (OK, maybe the last is a bit of an exaggeration, but you get the point). Whatever happened to doing the same with less? It's done in the private sector.
No, instead we continue with the status quo, never looking to see where tasks and jobs can be consolidated. When you want to save some money at home, you look to see where to cut. Like buying cheaper brands, skipping that vacation or maybe even mowing your own lawn instead of paying the service that has been doing it for years.
It just makes sense. But in government, we don't seem to employ the same common sense.
The boards of Selectmen and Finance have disappointed by increasing and not decreasing the budget. Now it's up to the Representative Town Meeting, which has been conducting hearings on the proposed budget for two weeks.
The final stop is the RTM budget adoption meeting on May 7. The next day, the Board of Finance is scheduled to set the mill rate and lock in how much we are all going to have to pay for the next year. One wonders what the RTM will do. If the members have any sense at all and are listening to their constituents, they will be brave and cut the budget. If they don't, they are a disappointment too.