State of the Town as seen by GOP: Best days lie ahead with stronger leadership
EDITOR'S NOTE: Following is the full text of the response by the Republican majority on the Representative Town Meeting to the State of the Town address delivered by First Selectman Michael Tetreau, a Democrat, to the legislative body Tuesday. The speech was delivered by Chris Tymniak, R-9.
Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. I would like to begin by thanking the First Selectman for sharing his thoughts on the State of our Town. I feel privileged to deliver the Republican response to the First Selectman's address, offering an alternative perspective on the State of Fairfield.
People many times ask us what is the Representative Town Meeting, more frequently referred to as the RTM? In a nutshell, we are a 50-member municipal legislative body that is the financial backstop of the Town, approving all expenditures and labor contracts, and we have the authority to enact and remove ordinances. In many ways, we are like the U.S. House of Representatives, but on a much more localized basis.
- A bottom-up approach
Leadership is Key: Your RTM Republicans' main focus is on leadership. We are steadfast in our commitment to addressing the tough issues. Being a leader, particularly a strong, courageous leader, is not easy. We will not always agree. We respect and embrace these differences. That said, we will never lose sight of our principles. We will always advocate for the taxpayer.
Today, your RTM Republicans continue to lead townwide with 34 seats on the 50-member Representative Town Meeting. Since being elected, we have passionately fought to slow the rate of Town spending and encouraged the First Selectman to drive departmental efficiencies through technology and management by objective. You witnessed these efforts last May, with our marathon, 7-hour budget meeting, where the Republican majority took purposeful action to reduce and ultimately approve a final Town budget -- with a tax rate increase of only 1.96%. This is one the lowest tax rate increases our community has seen in years.
We take great pride in this achievement, especially given the alternative: A potential tax increase more than twice as high. Despite the low increase, the 1.96% budget still offers prudent investment and additional spending in public education, police, public works and senior tax relief. We recognize that more work needs to be done, especially when it comes to reining in healthcare and retiree costs. So we reiterate our commitment to you, the taxpayer.
- Let's come together
Standing Strong in the Face of Adversity: We remain resolute in our rejection of the attacks the Democratic opposition has levied against us. Throughout the 2013 and 2014 budget processes, the Democratic RTM minority belittled our fiscally prudent policies with sharp rhetoric. We stood strong, recognizing that words mean little without substance. We proposed an alternative view: Trimming budget increases without adversely affecting Town services. Veritas vos liberabit: The truth will set you free. Ultimately, the Town disclosed that it had achieved a $3.8 million surplus for fiscal year 2013-14 and today, the Fairfield Public School District is anticipating a $700K surplus, even though we trimmed its proposed increase by $500K.
The question is: When will the Democrat minority realize that a reduction of a proposed increase is not a cut, but an investment in our Town's future? When will the Democrat minority realize that wars over semantics disrupt the people's business? Tonight, we reiterate our long-standing offer to the Democrats: Come join us! Let's work together to rein in spending and do the hard work we were all elected to do. We can no longer simply accept budgets as presented. Let's dig deeper and make the hard choices necessary to eliminate what we don't need and keep more money in the hands of taxpayers.
- Project overruns must stop
Every Penny Counts: This past year the Republican caucus monitored building committee proceedings for three of our school buildings -- Roger Ludlowe High School, Osborn Hill and Riverfield. Regretfully, all three projects will exceed their original appropriations. The Administration and Building Committees are now developing revised budgets for the Osborn Hill and Ludlowe high school projects.
All three of these projects carried an original aggregate appropriation of over $30 million. But they will now cost more than $35 million. Given the level of cost overruns in these three school building committees and the lack of decisive direction from the First Selectman's Building Committee Process Review Committee, we must effect significant change in the building committee's charges, approach and overall project management.
- Penfield took too long
The Protracted Rebuild of an Asset: Tonight, this body voted to approve the Penfield rebuild project. Despite the diverse views offered, one fact came into sharp focus: The powers that be dragged their feet putting before us a facility plan for Penfield that is essentially the same, but meets the new FEMA regulations. Moreover, how can we explain to constituents why after 27 months of deliberation, they still won't be able to enjoy the beachfront facility this summer?
Projects of this nature require leadership, and that leadership must be continuous and top down from day one. The First Selectman's tepid leadership caused the Penfield rebuild to drift through the approval process, which for "better" or "worse" culminated tonight.
- Investing in Town Infrastructure
Energy-Efficient Trucks for Our Roads: At the February 2014 RTM meeting, the Republican majority unanimously approved a significant replenishment of the Department of Public Works heavy-duty vehicle fleet through a long-term capital bond resolution totaling nearly $2.1 million. This bond resolution also provided for a new fire truck. With this approval, the DPW will significantly upgrade its aging and overworked fleet of heavy-duty trucks.
The DPW, in conjunction with the Administration, has outlined a detailed vehicle replacement plan. Unfortunately, this plan relies exclusively on bonding for the coming fiscal year, with no transition plan. This approach contradicts the wishes of both the Board of Finance and the RTM, which they expressed last year when the First Selectman asked us to approve the $2.1 million vehicle upgrade. The Administration's proposed long-term financing of these vehicles again seems to blur the nature of these expenses. These costs are more operational in nature. They should be included in the DPW's annual operating budget or, at a minimum, a down payment should be made for these vehicles upon purchase -- just like citizens do when they purchase a new car. Then we can finance the balance. It's called prudent capital management.
- Making the tough choices
The World is Changing: The Republican majority continues to focus its efforts on the most difficult issues -- contractual labor costs and their long-term ramifications. During this term, the Town Hall Employees Union contract was approved by a one-vote margin. While the majority of the RTM approved this contract, the majority of the Republican RTM members did not.
While union employees' agreeing to a high-deductible HSA health plan is a notable achievement, our municipal benefit plans remain too rich by federal standards. Consequently, they will be subject to the "Cadillac tax" in coming years. Growing concern about the unresolved and continuing classification of our benefit plans as overly generous, and what we learned post meeting about the total cost of the Town Hall Employees contract after accounting for medical inflationary costs, gave the Republican majority pause. We resolved to vote down the Fairfield Education Administrators contract. For the first time in over two decades, a labor agreement involving education was voted down and sent back to the Board of Education for reconsideration.
- It's about educating children
Let's Empower Our Teachers: In education, we must focus on the children, ensuring that they receive the education they need to ultimately excel in college and in their careers. We support parent initiatives to maximize classroom resources, while minimizing administrative and bureaucratic spending. We are truly blessed to have so many wonderful and committed school teachers in our Town, and we are proud to have supported their recent contract.
Despite our strong support of teachers, we must acknowledge our concerns about certain labor negotiations relating to the Board of Education and the RTM. Accordingly, our caucus requested in writing that the Board of Education Chairman ensure that either he or the Vice Chairman attend all RTM regular monthly and subcommittee meetings when education contracts are under consideration to answer questions. We hope the BOE Chairman adopts this as a standing operating procedure going forward.
- It's about accountability
The Need for Strong Leadership is Now: The First Selectman must hold the line on the expected long-term costs of all labor agreements put forth. As we saw in 2008, a few bad days in the stock market can greatly diminish the value of our pension portfolios. Our concern grows as we watch retiree benefits paid FAR outpacing current employee contributions. With declining interest and dividend yields, a big part of the pension funding strategy is market gains. In the absence of positive market returns, we face staggering annual taxpayer contributions. Long-term taxpayer exposure is a serious issue requiring action.
With modesty and a genuine dedication to our principles, we again ask the First Selectman to put forth a budget that slows the tax-rate growth to less than that of last year. Given the operational results of 2014, the expected favorable variances of 2015 and the labor agreements approved to date, this goal is well within reason.
- Strengthening school security
Working Together the Sky's the Limit: We desire greater frugality, but we continue to support expanding certain departmental appropriations and capital projects, including public safety and education. We fully support the continued efforts of Superintendent of Schools Dr. David Title, Police Chief Gary MacNamara and the Board of Education in their unwavering commitment to strong school security. We recognize the need for the security enhancements soon to be before us and look forward to the discussion around system-wide security infrastructure upgrades for our schools.
- Our best days lie ahead
Our Town is at a Crossroads: We have the opportunity to decrease the past decade's steep upward slope in spending and tax increases. We must be responsible stewards of taxpayer money, ensuring that we are providing top-notch, yet lean Town services.
We hold to the conviction that the best days for Fairfield lie ahead and these days are grounded in the strength, resolve and hard work of our most important asset -- the citizens of Fairfield. My parents called Fairfield home. I call Fairfield home and it's our job to preserve and enhance the quality of life in our Town, so that our children and their children may all call Fairfield home.