Letters to the editor
Published 1:03 am, Friday, April 30, 2010
Supporting fire budget
Although we understand the difficult economic times the town is facing, the Fire Commission not only supports the need for a second ladder truck with one new firefighter shift 24/7, but we unanimously supported Chief Richard Felner's entire budget. The request for the second ladder truck with one additional firefighter -- along with other important items of essential need to the department such as air packs -- was reviewed and recommended by our commission. We are now hopeful the community public safety enhancements included in the chief's budget can proceed in the new 2010-11 budget.
Still, because of the recent news reports related to the recommendation for the second ladder truck and additional firefighter and the cost to the taxpayers, we believe it is important to briefly explain this concept to the public. The intent is to strengthen response time for large fire incidents by revamping and outfitting one of the department's existing fire apparatus trucks to serve as a second ladder truck, so two trucks can be assigned as ladder trucks for various parts of town, rather than sending one main ladder truck from one end of town to the other. The ability to do this is contingent on having one additional fire personnel on duty per shift to man this fire truck for it to be deployed as a ladder truck. Part of the cost for staffing was initially approved in the last two budgets, but implementation was delayed again due to budget constraints. The new budget has the added resources, if approved, for full implementation.
Again, please keep in mind that we understand the current economic crisis Fairfield and towns across the state and country face. Indeed, we truly appreciate the town boards' past budget support for this particular request, among others, and we appreciate the RTM's current review and consideration of approval. We thank all town officials for their patience and commitment to Fairfield's safety programs and recognize our shared commitment for building on the town's dedication to public safety.
The Fairfield Board
of Fire Commissioners:
In the face
For at least the past decade, the Representative Town Meeting (RTM) by tradition has used its regular April meeting to discuss any cuts members consider proposing to the town budget, which is voted on at the annual budget meeting in May.
This year, the majority leader stated that his 38 member caucus had agreed not to abide by this tradition, but instead to present extensive cuts at the budget meeting itself, promising a long and difficult night. His reason: "We did not have time to prepare."
Since February, in almost 45 hours of public meetings, the Board of Finance has been reviewing the town budget, which includes the entire Department of Education budget. Every department chairman was questioned, and had time to respond. The boards of Selectmen and Education made extensive presentations, and engaged in thorough dialogue with the BOF. Voluminous supporting documentation for specific budget items was requested from the town's Finance Department, and both distributed at the meetings and posted online. The public was invited to speak at every meeting (except the final voting meetings) about every department budget.
Between meetings, the BOF has been accessible by telephone and e-mail, to further explain its process and views.
As the result of this lengthy and deliberate process, the BOF carefully cut some items, increased others and left some alone, in the budget it recommended to the RTM.
Finally, last week, in our subcommittee meetings, every member of the RTM had an opportunity to question every town department, as well as the first selectman and Board of Finance, about any line in our budget.
I cannot think of a step that was not taken by the town or the Board of Finance to provide the time and information necessary for us, members of the RTM, to at least propose any cuts this week at our regular meeting. Instead, next week, in the course of a single meeting, cuts will be proposed, department chairs will have to summon whatever responses they can on the spot, and then members of the RTM will have to rely on those limited exchanges to make decisions in the course of a single evening that will impact the entire town for the coming fiscal year.
With the greatest respect for the individual members of this body with whom I am privileged to serve, I must say that in my opinion, this action was not only inconsiderate, it flew in the face of the professionalism, courtesy and thoroughness so carefully built into our process.
RTM District 4,
RTM had plenty of time
This is my fourth term serving District 7 as a member of The Representative Town Meeting and I have been involved in the town budget process for more than years and in all those years the April meeting of the RTM has always been the beginning discussion for town budget. This body has always had the practice, as requested by the moderator, "that any member of the RTM who intends to make a motion to reduce the budget at the Annual Budget Meeting" which traditionally takes place the following week, "to make their intentions known as part of the discussion this meeting, so as to provide adequate notice of all intended motions to all affected persons."
This past Monday the majority leader stated that the Republican caucus was not going to be able to do this, because "we did not have time to prepare," but would most likely be prepared introduce these cuts at the budget meeting itself. He continued to say that they would leave the Board of Education budget intact, but "on the town side, at this point, we cannot point to specific line items, but we are looking to roll back non-contractual spending items, expenses, to the year prior budget." He said, "The rollback of costs would affect all town departments."
The fiscal 2011 budget process was started on March 2 when the Board of Finance opened its public meetings regarding the budget. It held 11 meetings going through each department on the town side, as well as the Board of Education budget. This process was completed on April 1, when the Board of Finance held their vote. That gave every member of the RTM 25 days to examine the budget. Additionally all five standing committees discussed the budget the week of April 19.
There was sufficient time to prepare questions and receive answers if not immediately but surely in the days that followed. In total this process has been going on almost 60 days. This would seem to be more than enough time for anybody who had question the get the answers they needed and if not as least be able to make their intentions known at the April meeting. The fact that the Republican caucus "did not have time to prepare" is beyond comprehension.
The Board of Finance has always made it clear to all RTM members that they are available to discuss any part of the budget and to help in all ways possible. This is the body we elected to make these decisions and I for one am glad to have them. They have worked meticulously for hours on end on this, not only at the meeting but in-between them as well. The time they spend on getting all the facts and figures to help prepare a budget that will best support the town and the residents is amazing and I think they deserve our thanks. As a result of the hours of work they put into this process, the Board of Finance has cautiously made cuts to some items as well as increases which they deemed necessary. They do not only look at the expense side but spend considerable time on the revenue side as well.
I believe that there has been ample time for any RTM member to ask for and receive any information from town managers, bodies, or the Board of Finance. Giving all RTM members the time they need to uphold the tradition of the April meeting and stand up in public and say that there are some concerns and they might be making a motion to propose a cut to certain line items in the budget. But as was stated Monday night by the Majority leader "they did not have time to prepare," so now we will all wait and get the information on the night of the budget vote.
District 7 RTM,