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Letter: Rhetoric, Misdirection Yield Disappointing Fairfield Budget

One Fairfield RTM member says the town has been irresponsible in its budget process as taxes, debt, unemployment and property values emerge as real problems for residents.

 

is an inherently political process. This year the RTM was subverted by actions calculated to divert discussion from the real issue of overburdened taxpayers, compounded by the previous administration’s costly blunders.

The net result was overwhelmingly disappointing to all.

Suppositions, incomplete information, legal opinions and reversals of those opinions at the eleventh hour were designed to distract and created conflict. The resulting rhetoric was fraught with warnings of ultimate chaos. Any seasoned arbitrator, or any parent for that matter, knows that hyperbole does anything but enhance credibility.

The Town Attorney poked the hornet’s nest by reversing a legal opinion about process originally received by the Majority Leader twenty days before. That original opinion dictated the method of approaching the budget discussion. The reversal, a ‘clarification’ requested by the First Selectman, arrived by email two hours before the annual RTM meeting for public input. As it could only have intended to do, it diverted discussion away from responsible, considered debate and deteriorated into a log jamb of dissention and resentment. 

Creating a budget for the next fiscal year based on the current year is an ungainly but necessary exercise. The budget books are published long before the fiscal year is over; actuals are as yet unknown. We then compound this by projecting it forward for another year. The interpretation of these variables or ‘spin’ gains momentum creating escalating conflict. Much of the resulting rhetoric raised ire, became divisive and thwarted reasonable negotiation and compromise. Polemics became the status quo.

The library budget is prime example of spin gone out of control. The hyperbolic sound bite after the RTM refused to restore a fraction of a percent cut by the Board of Finance was characterized as catastrophic to children and seniors with cuts to materials and threatened weekend hours. Many RTM members absorbed this as gospel. One opined eloquently about an aging mother who would have nowhere to go on weekends without a library.

But we need look no further than salary requests in the library budget to offset that cut. It is fact that of the 31 full time employees, 21 were budgeted for raises in excess of 8 percent. Five were slated for increases in double digit percentages and went as high as 16 percent. Part-time workers’ lines were lumped together without detail including $160,000 for “professionals.” An additional line item for “fees and professional services” increased by 51 percent to $148,000.  Could the Town Librarian not have found a better way to serve the town by adjusting a few salary lines?

Our First Selectman gave the entire budget a pass without a single change to the total. The Board of Finance felt it was necessary shore up reserves to maintain our AAA bond rating. Did it have to be by raising taxes or could the funds have been found elsewhere by the administration before requiring that the BoF solve that problem?

In the end, the RTM voted to reduce the overall budget by one half of one percent. A tsunami of political rhetoric, accusations of bullying and dramatic exits from the meeting ensued. None of this contributed anything to the process ­– all of which was understandably born of frustration. No doubt we will again see the finger pointed at the RTM Majority for countermanding the shoring up of reserves.  I am absolutely convinced that Town Attorney and the First Selectman set that train in motion by the their last-minute legal reversal tactic.

The reality is, our tax increases have been substantial. The trajectory is unsustainable. Our debt is too high. Our incomes are declining or stagnating as are our property values. Unemployment continues at an unacceptable level.

If we truly believe we can’t squeak by with about $268.9 million rather than $270 million, and if we believe Armageddon is on the way, we have all drunk the Kool-Aid. I know Fairfielders are smarter than that.

Amy Mezoff

RTM District 4

lbh May 23, 2012 at 12:31 PM
Well said, it is time we start looking at ways to reign in the budget in this town before we start looking like Bridgeport.
jk May 23, 2012 at 01:11 PM
Very well put Amy. I hope more of our administrators and reps can remove their rose colored glasses and start preparing next year's budget with a more significant touch of reality. As difficult as it may seem, we should not be waiting until next year. Auditing and reduction needs to start now if we are ever going to put an end to this craziness.
Stanley Simpleton May 23, 2012 at 01:19 PM
Excellent article Amy. Thank you for the hours of work that you put towards controlling the tax and spend approach of Fairfield's Democrats. I'm not trying to be partisan here, I am simply making an observation. Furthermore, can someone please explain to me why it is that Mike Tetreau OR any other Democrat on the RTM not come up with any suggestions to achieve significant savings? AND, why have NO Democrats acknowledged the fiscal challenges facing our taxpayers and the town in general? Is it because they are too concerned with towing the party line? Is it because they realize that the voters of Fairfield have their heads in the sand and will NOT hold them accountable during the next election season? I welcome any response to these two questions from any Democrat who is an elected official who wishes to respond.
Anthony Buglino May 23, 2012 at 04:23 PM
Amy, you have not a clue what you are talking about - the library raises are part of a THEA contract that the RTM voted for - department heads do not control salary lines nor do they make "salary requests". These are contractual, negotiated by the Town, unions, and voted on by the BOF and RTM. As an RTM member you are sadly misinformed.
iamspartacus May 23, 2012 at 08:48 PM
Anthony how dare you? Dont you know she is just an volunteer and that excuses all ignorance? Seriously Amy, when you used to be a democrat you sent angry letters to repubulicans in your district (who you this year kept in office with your tie breaking vote). Your outrage seems to spin like a weather vane in a tornado! Now the raises you are so aghast at were the trade off for THEA's pensions, which have saved the town a grand total of ....wait for it.......that's right $0.00. Another ill informed knee jerk reaction from RTM republicans that went bad! Yea And stan my man, you keep saying tax and spend town democrats, the RTM can cut the budget and the republicans have held the majority for the past 3 years....and taxes have risen so there goes your theory that its "those pesky democrats"
Listen first May 24, 2012 at 01:00 AM
Stan, who was in leadership when the town realized significant energy savings? The Democrat in the F.S. office. As for Democrats toeing the line, I do for the most part take them at their word that, short of dismantling the budget and starting over, what was before them was an overall responsible budget. lbh, you want to avoid looking like Bridgeport? Avoid pillaging the education budget for starters. jk, TOTALLY agree with you, although not your solid support of Amy. And Amy, it's pathetic to say that the town attorney thwarted the attempts of responsible Republicans to put forth a fiscally conservative budget. Sorry to resort to cliche, but where there's a will, there's a way. You had a week from receiving the news from the attorney. Your solution? A two hour debate and rejecting of the budget -- a foregone conclusion one can assume, with how the Republicans obeyed party leadership (Millington isn't far away!) And then you address the education budget and the golf course. That's what a week of creative thinking produced for the taxpayers of Fairfield. Not inspiring.
Micki Martin June 15, 2012 at 04:00 PM
I am just so glad we got that lawn mower!

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