Fairfield needs fundamental change. Taxpayers are being slammed by a tsunami of wasteful spending and a landslide of debt, leading to inordinate tax increases.

The school budget alone has increased over $90 million in just nine years to the point they are now burning through almost $200 million per year. That's $1 million every day the schools are open. Town indebtedness has climbed to almost $230 million.

Poor management and the lack of financial controls are responsible for these losses:

For years, the town accepted pie-in-the sky "gains" from Madoff without any verification or documentation, resulting in the loss of $42 million;

The Metro train station project, which was supposed to cost only $6 million with a payback (immediate revenue) of $300,000 per year, has, due to the lack of management, now cost over $40 million -- and the payback to Fairfield is zero. Since there are no commitments for development of any of the million square feet of space, property taxes will not be coming in any time soon;

The school department every year is given millions of dollars for expenses, including maintenance. Yet, the town allowed such mismanagement that the required maintenance was not performed, and a perfectly solid school building was brought into decay and torn down, requiring a whole new school;

The week that the town finally revealed the Metro project was grossly over-spent, the finance department issued cash payments of $2.5 million -- tax money not approved nor appropriated. There were no financial controls to protect the people's money;

Even handling the billing for the housing department resulted in a loss ($175,000) because, again, no management controls were in effect.

Top-down operational audit

These problems are symptomatic of a town without effective management. The board of finance, on which both my opponents for first selectman served for years, was supposed to be the watchdog for the town to ensure the taxpayers that their money was protected. However, just as happened when securities regulators failed in overlooking Madoff's fraud, nobody was watching out for Fairfield taxpayers.

This is why I have called for a "top-down" operational audit of all departments and programs. This audit, conducted by experts in our universities, will be well-designed and executed; will invite active participation of our dedicated and knowledgeable employees and our citizens, and will identify over $21 million of cost savings and efficiencies. Our university partners will thus contribute to the town's success.

Our proposals include: combining the purchasing, personnel, payroll, payables, and similar functions of various departments to reduce costs; removing from the school system those functions (busing, food service, building maintenance, etc.) to where the first selectman can better manage costs while improving service. The principle is well-founded: Responsibility for controlling cost must be accompanied by the authority to manage those costs. There will be no more just granting money to the schools without accountability.

We also have recommended that he town consider the opportunity of providing a town-based ambulance service, which would maximize utilization of our own employees' skills and training, and generate revenues for the town of some $10 million/year.

Reducing town debt

To reduce town's indebtedness, and lessen the tax load on property owners, I recommended we scour all the "fund" accounts, and apply excess funds toward paying off bonds. These "fund" accounts, listed every year in the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (latest issued Dec. 21, 2010), amounted to more than $300 million on June 30, 2010. Illustrative of these fund amounts are (with page reference): Accumulated depreciation, $172 million (p. 42); certificate of deposit $21 million; cash, $26 million; U.S. government and municipal obligations, $16 million (p. 39); receivables $11.4 million; deferred revenue, $12.1 million (p. 41). These monies were all on hand at the very beginning of the new fiscal year, and exclude trust assets of $252 million (see exclusion by Mr. Hiller, p. 10). The elimination of bonded debt would result in immediate savings of $25 million a year.

In this sea of over-spending and huge indebtedness, this is good news: Our proposed operational audit will identify savings and, at the same time, preserve and improve services. None of the operational audits which I conducted for American Can Co. resulted in the elimination of people. The savings we generated, over $350 million, were hard savings of process and procedure improvements, materials changes and reductions, purchasing savings and planning efficiencies. But this "out of the box" thinking does require a radically new approach to government -- an approach that excludes the "old boy mentality" and lets in the light of day with open government.

Only the Independent Party has presented creative ideas and chartered a clear vision of a Fairfield without debt, with lower taxes, and greater security for all our citizens. Our proposals are powerful, common-sense approaches to today's horrendous economic climate. We can get Fairfield's house in order, and we can bring about tax stability and economic security for all of our citizens.

Our team of non-politicians, taxpayers as you, has one objective -- instill sound management and fiscal sanity. To help you, we ask for your vote Nov. 8. Thank you.

Hugh Dolan is a firefighter and EMT running for first selectman as an Independent.