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Fairfield RTM Passes $1.1M Lighter Budget

But the trim came at the cost of the contingency fund, a move termed 'financial suicide' by the Fairfield's Chief Fiscal Officer Paul Hiller.

The Fairfield Representative Town Meeting passed the Fiscal Year 2013 budget Tuesday, pruning $1.1 million with a and an $850,000 cut to the town’s contingency fund, a move termed “financial suicide” by Fairfield’s Chief Fiscal Officer Paul Hiller.

The budget passed in 34 – 13 vote after roughly two-and-a-half hours of deliberation Tuesday. The final result is a $272 million operating plan of which $250,886,383 will be raised by taxation. Last week’s GOP proposal , nor was there a motion to reduce the budget by departmental line items.

RTM Majority Leader David Becker, R-1, started Tuesday’s meeting with the move to cut $850,000 from Fairfield’s $1,088,517 general contingency fund, leaving $238,000. Becker stated he felt $850,000 would not be difficult and estimated that there exists approximately $670,000 in vacancies in the proposed budget.

Considering Moody’s Investors Service based on the proposed budget’s contributions to reserve accounts and the cushion of the contingency account, both Hiller and Board of Finance Chairman Tom Flynn urged the RTM to reject the cut.

“This cut would fall in the category of financial suicide,” Hiller said.

Of the 18 AAA towns in the state, Fairfield ranks 17th in level of financial reserves, which “remain below average,” according to Hiller.

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If a catastrophe were to hit Fairfield and the contingency depleted, Flynn added, the only place to dig in for emergency funds would be the surplus, and creating a situation that is “fiscally irresponsible.”

Catastrophes aside, some of the contingency funds were meant to cover potential raises that could arise from the five labor contracts the town still needs to negotiate -- plus money for the State Primary in August and to implement the RTM’s upcoming redistricting ordinance, according to information from the Registrar’s Office.

John Mitola, D-2, asked Hiller whether the Board of Finance had the authority to transfer funds from departments to the contingency if the financiers felt the $850,000 was too much. Hiller said that, under state statute, the board could transfer money.

“It seems as though the majority is going to force the Board of Finance to make the cuts to the departments to put the money back into the contingency,” Mitola said.

The motion to reduce the contingency fund by $850,000 passed 26-21. Members of the Board of Finance promptly gathered their things and left the Fairfield Warde High School gym. Appeals made to reconsider the item failed.

Marc Patten, D-7, said that of the 231 emails from constituents the RTM received, the majority urged to vote no to cuts.

“What those people did is elect us to do a job. The Board of Selectmen and Board of Finance did their job to create the budget and then it comes to us to make the hard decisions. But because we don’t like the rules…shenanigans ensue.”

“I don’t care what party you’re from or what part of town you’re from,” Patten continued, “but to cut the one item we all know is one of the dumbest areas in the budget to cut…nobody gets to make up the rules.”

Becker countered that there “appear to be no rules” and that maybe it’s time to start thinking about charter reform.

“The conversation starts tomorrow as to how we move forward,” he added.

Following the contingency vote, Joe Palmer, R-4, moved to reconsider the $27,810 cut to the H. Smith Richardson Golf Course budget, explaining that the RTM was now taking a “more global approach” to the budget.

But Selectman Cristin McCarthy Vahey pointed out that the Board of Selectmen and Board of Finance both voted on a line item budget.

“I’m very disappointed,” she said. “It feels like the rules were changed. You changed your minds because you’re taking a different approach.”

The motion to cut the $27,810 from the golf course’s budget was reconsidered and it failed, 5-42, so the funds were restored.

Before the final vote was cast, Bruce Ryan, R-10, pointed out that the $1.1 million decrease to the budget is really a reduction of a more than $10 million increase.

“It’s ludicrous that we can’t find $1 million in savings in a $273 million budget,” Ryan said. “Anyone who doesn’t understand the reality of the numbers is in total la la land.”

The Board of Finance is scheduled to meet tonight at 7:30 p.m. in Sullivan Independence Hall to set the mill rate for Fiscal Year 2013, which will take effect July 1.

H Tuttle May 09, 2012 at 03:03 PM
The town attorney was wrong in saying that the charter does not allow the RTM to make cuts by dept. The charter is in no way clear on the issue and another legal opinion concluded differently.
Creeky May 09, 2012 at 03:05 PM
Osborn, I'm not defending the method. I am interested in the question behind the end goal: do we need charter reform to increase RTM control over the budget? As far as the BoF walking out, well, I'd me mad too, to see my hard work destroyed, but, I wouldn't be just mad at Becker, I'd be mad at Tetreau too. It takes two to tango. Regardless, I wouldn't have stormed out like a child.
Ffld mom May 09, 2012 at 03:08 PM
powerful tactics? More like dictatorial. There is nothing democratic about pulling a fast one like this without public comment, ignoring the views of their constituents, and abandoning any inkling of having an informed debate. Their message was we don't care what anyone else thinks. We know better. Their lack of hubris was evident in their unwillingness to put any of these ideas forward a month ago to be properly vetted. Were they too afraid someone might point out an unintended consequence or two? Given the irresponsible way the Rtm handled this debate, they are the last body in which I would be comfortable putting more power. The town would risk falling victim to the polical agenda of the party in charge of the RTM.
Stanley Simpleton May 09, 2012 at 03:09 PM
Amen for commen sense -Thanks Creeky.
Osborn Hiller May 09, 2012 at 03:24 PM
Creeky, I understand where you are coming from. However, I am leery of any type of charter reform/redistricting process. It is usually pushed as a power play, and not in the interest of better government. I know one thing, the members of the BOF and selectmen, both D and R, sure seem more serious about their jobs than most RTM Reps.
Fairfield native May 09, 2012 at 03:46 PM
More power to the RTM? Heaven help us after last nights fiasco!
Creeky May 09, 2012 at 03:49 PM
Osborn, I agree. And I'm asking here, not opining, does the BoF limit themselves only to financial management, or do they set agenda, when writing budgets. If the former, I think they are doing their jobs. If the latter, I think they have over-extended their responsibilities.
Creeky May 09, 2012 at 03:56 PM
Michele, I'd be loathe to debate your points, they have merit. But, wasn't it lack of power in the RTM that allowed Flatto and the BoF to put us into the horrible state of debt we are now in? I'm still researching and trying to understand this. Contingency money, and how it is used, seems to be a very complex issue. Minority Leader Schwartz, (Dem, D-7) had made a motion for a significant cut, I think $800k. I think it was to the pension account. Is the pension account overfunded, and if so, why?
fully involved May 09, 2012 at 03:57 PM
I think the Repubilicans on the BoF should resign and let Becker and Company select their replacements, forcing the Republican Caucus to do the heavy lifting on what should be cut line by line.
Creeky May 09, 2012 at 04:10 PM
Having been a departmental manager, and faced both line-by-line cuts, and departmental cuts, I've not found line-by-line functional, even in cases where the program is being abandoned, as there are usually costs to wind it down. It works if it is a new program that hasn't yet begun. Departmental cuts allow the manager to manage. I do recognize, that creates problems, in government. In a corporation, I have a mission statement and a strategy plan against which to test my decisions. But, a government has a constituency with direct interest in line items. It's different. I do think, the lack of overall published strategies for departments, and the whole town, are unhealthy. I think we need them. I think they are a topic for RTM debate. Am I wrong, do we have these? I all but guarantee, if we look to some of the managers of the largest town departments, Dr. Title and Chief Mac, they could tell is their mission statements and strategies off the tops of their heads, as could their top staff, and likely, fairly far down the line. Without these, management is just a random number generator. Everyone is off in their own direction.
Osborn Hiller May 09, 2012 at 04:49 PM
Got that right. Of all our elected officials (RTM, BOE, BOF, BOS...) the last ones I would want to give more power to is the RTM.
NRF May 09, 2012 at 05:18 PM
Stanley, did you read a different article? In article above, the first 3 people quoted are all Republicans: Paul Hiller, David Becker, Tom Flynn. After quotes and back/forth between these 3, eventually Democrats John Mitola and Marc Patten are quoted. I think what you mean is that they should quote more people that agree with you? Perhaps the facts have a left-wing bias.
NRF May 09, 2012 at 05:27 PM
Most of the Democrats that voted yes did so because they were afraid of the repercussions of not having a budget. Every Dem and 1 Rep voted against cutting the contingency fund. Nobody knows what would happen if the RTM hadn't passed a budget, so members felt they had no choice. In the end this was a failure of leadership from both caucuses. So many members from both parties left the meeting last night disgusted and regretting their vote.
Ffld mom May 09, 2012 at 05:58 PM
I am not sure if the pension account is overfunded or not - it would have been nice to hear that debate. Perhaps it would have been too risky if it worked for the town but forced the Republican Majority Leader and Deputy Majority Leader to have to give up their "the republicans are the only ones cutting" slogan. Sorry to sound so cynical but was such a reckless, elitist approach. What it sounds to me like is that the bodies elected townwide worked together to put forth a budget that most of the town and Moodys seemed to like. Maybe there was a lawn mower or monthly mailing that could have still been cut. Why didn't those things get looked at and cut by the RTM? Instead certain RTM "leaders" elected by a small subsection of the town had their own "global" agenda they wanted to advance. Let's hope their "austerity" plan works better that the ones in Greece and France...
Dilbert May 09, 2012 at 07:33 PM
Apropos a review of today’s barrage of posts, Henry David Thoreau’s sentiment echoes louder than ever: “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” I wish the fainthearted mudslingers in our Town the best of luck in one day emerging from Plato’s Cave.
Michele Modugno May 09, 2012 at 08:04 PM
The whole evening was full of shenanigans! Here is what I say...when election time rolls around, let's not have "short" memories and realize what some members of the RTM. Vote them out... And not for anything...I would rather have the contingency...just in case. And if we don't spend it, all the better. It was there...just in case!
Fairfield native May 09, 2012 at 09:36 PM
I agree with you MIchele...my fear is that memories fade and will be stuck with this RTM for another term. I guess it will be our jobs to remind each other come election.
Listen first May 09, 2012 at 10:56 PM
What on earth has the RTM done to earn your confidence that they should have MORE power? And Stanley, seriously, "the Democrats would not allow the Republicans to reduce the budget on a line by line basis." Who has the majority?
John Jameson May 10, 2012 at 02:15 AM
I'm still trying to figure out what meeting Simpleton was at. The GOP on the RTM CHOSE not to make line by line cuts; they were not "filibustered" by the Dems. The Dems were ready and willing to discuss, debate and vote on cuts proposed by the GOP. When did the finance board say that the funds could come from other departments should the need arise? SS said Moodys doesn't look at the contingency account. They do look at the surplus, and if the contingency account gets wiped out, and enough savings can't be found in the department budgets, where will the money come from? The surplus. Paul Hiller is not a man prone to exaggeration, so when he says the action is "financial suicide," it might be wise to listen. If the RTM members felt the cuts could be made to department budgets, they should be able to defend them. So, they should have had the guts to go through line by line and make those cuts. I think this town needs to go to a smaller council rather than an RTM. It might give voters candidates who actually want to serve, and take the time to educate themselves and represent their constituents.
Jim Eastwood May 10, 2012 at 09:12 AM
Good Morning Everyone I missed the meeting and I am sorry that I did. I am getting more and more concerned about the issue. THANK YOU Mr Becker, Creeky and others who are showing concerns about the Future of this Town. I Trust Paul Hillers Judgement and am VERY VERY Concerned about his comment. To Dip into the Reserve to keep Taxes Lower is not a good idea. Didn't you patrs Selectman try to dip into the Police and Fire pension system to attempt to pay for a school????? What gives??? NO ONE is looking to bash any Town service especially the Untouchable Board of Education" All they are asking for is Accountability !!!!!!!! It is time,as the Tax base (Industrial and Commericial ) is decreasing and burden on residential is increasing. Yes Paul Hiller, I hear and see an impending suicide coming. Tax Payers pay heed and listen. Have a Great day (and dig a little Deeper) "No Taxation without REPRESENTATION "
Jim Eastwood May 10, 2012 at 09:12 AM
Good Morning Everyone I missed the meeting and I am sorry that I did. I am getting more and more concerned about the issue. THANK YOU Mr Becker, Creeky and others who are showing concerns about the Future of this Town. I Trust Paul Hillers Judgement and am VERY VERY Concerned about his comment. To Dip into the Reserve to keep Taxes Lower is not a good idea. Didn't you patrs Selectman try to dip into the Police and Fire pension system to attempt to pay for a school????? What gives??? NO ONE is looking to bash any Town service especially the Untouchable Board of Education" All they are asking for is Accountability !!!!!!!! It is time,as the Tax base (Industrial and Commericial ) is decreasing and burden on residential is increasing. Yes Paul Hiller, I hear and see an impending suicide coming. Tax Payers pay heed and listen. Have a Great day (and dig a little Deeper) "No Taxation without REPRESENTATION "
Creeky May 11, 2012 at 02:49 AM
Listen first, To your question, "What on earth has the RTM done to earn your confidence that they should have MORE power?" I'm not looking at it that way. I'm seeking better checks and balances, based upon my experience with the last administration, not this one. Further, it's no secret I'm fiscally conservative. I'm unconvinced the current system of budgets is as conducive to cutting costs as it is to increasing them. I hope that answers your question. I'm not trying to debate your question, just explaining the basis of my position. With very few exceptions, I read every poster's comments on patch. I've learned a great deal, and, I've found huge amounts of posted information to be untrue, or half-true, including some of my own statements. I do often change my views after consideration of what others say.
Ffld mom May 11, 2012 at 12:45 PM
How can transferring power away from people elected town wide into the hands of a small group of people, each elected by one-tenth of the town (and in reality, significantly less given turn out) be a more effective check on power? We should not reform the town charter because we don't like who the town elected. Furthermore, I did not - and cannot- vote for Mr. Becker, which is fine but consequently he doesn't represent me or stand accountable to me at the ballot box Why would I want to give him more power? And that should hold true for whoever the next majority leader is. The balance of power and the checks and balances are fine the way they are. If the RTM wants more say in the process, they should learn how to lead (ie, set forth their ideas early on, let them be tested in the process, and do a better job of listening to the response they get.) They would be wise to trust the old adage that good policy is good politics. I would be hard pressed to find many people -regardless of whether or not they wanted the budget cut - to be willing to argue that cutting the contingency fund was good policy. I do agree there was a failure in leadership here, and no one should be happy about it. But if this debate- or lack there of - showed us anything, it is that reforming the charter to put more power in the RTM is not the answer. They have not earned it and have shown quite clearly their willingness to abuse it by acting on a whim.
Creeky May 11, 2012 at 02:37 PM
Michele, I can certainly understand your view; you explained it well. I don't understand what the rationale was behind this decision to reduce contingency. It is my intention to hear from those involved so that I might. I have begun those dialogs. But, I'm busy right now, as are they, and it will likely be months before I do. Regardless, here is my ill-informed opinion... The BOF and Selectmen write budgets without significant cuts, year in, year out. Further, the BOF has leaned heavily on increasing debt, in the last decade, to make up any shortfall of revenue. I think our debt load is far too high, and I think our rate of increasing it is incredibly irresponsible. I think the GOP leadership shares that view. I do not think we can get much traction on controlling our spending on cutting a little program here or there. We have huge fixed costs, salaries, debt service, healthcare, and it appears, regardless of historical pension costs, that they will soon explode. I think we need a mentality change at the top levels of leadership in our government. We need a CEO whom is communicating to department heads, do something different. Take some modern management seminars, use less direct employees and more contractors, do not suggest new services that the town is not requested, to manufacture need, et cetera. And to the BOF, do not bond anything, we can't keep increasing debt, the muni market is changing. Continued...
Creeky May 11, 2012 at 02:37 PM
I think the GOP has been asking for that leadership and not getting it. Further, the RTM has not successfully achieved significant cuts, that I've seen, in my time here in Fairfield. I do not believe they can. The line-by-line cut system is not what we need, for above mentioned reasons, and, because endless debate runs out the clock, and the budget gets passed every year, without cuts. As such, the people, which did, in fact, elect a majority on a platform of increased fiscal conservancy, are not getting what they want. Therefore, we don't actually have representative government right now. I don't think reforming the charter to allow departmental cuts, rather than line-by-line, centers power into a small group of people, I think it removes power, from a small group of people, into a large group of people. As to charter reform because we don't like whom the town elected, I like Mike Tetreau, regardless of how hard I am on him. I do think he was the best option. So, I don't want to debate that further. Continued...
Creeky May 11, 2012 at 02:38 PM
I don't think the actions of the TRTM was abuse on whim. I think it was strategy. I think both sides were applying strategies, with the executive strategy far less apparent. I think there was a lack of compromise on the part of the FS office (just my opinion). I think the GOP leadership used the tools at their disposal to send a message, we will not back down on the requests of our constituency. Their action is forcing the FS and BOF to cut other departments in order to achieve their agenda, which was to shore up contingency. I'm not encouraging you to vote for Becker. I think you should vote for whomever you like. I love America too. I was encouraging you to write your elected reps directly, and understand their rationale. Continued...
Creeky May 11, 2012 at 02:38 PM
As far as charter reform in the form of reduced RTM reps and redistricting, I've not yet formed an opinion on this. I am leaning towards the idea that less RTM members might be more efficient while still providing equal representation. I suspect you cannot just reduce count without redistricting, and keep even representation. But most of all, redistricting is something that has always existed, at the town and state level, is occasionally necessary, and is often abused by the party in power. I don't know the solution to that. I think the party system, in general, is increasingly harmful to government. For example, I do not think that at the federal level, our congressmen represent us. I think they represent their party first, the lobbyists, PACs, and SuperPacs second, and guaranteeing their own future careers in the lobbying industry third. I think we're a late fourth. I think those opinions sound crazy, paranoid, and cynical, even for me, so I rarely broadcast them. Continued...
Creeky May 11, 2012 at 02:38 PM
Lastly, as to whom represents you at the ballot box, what was their platform, and are they achieving it? One of Mike's platforms was increased bipartisanship. I've seen some headway he has made, but at the moment, it appears he is going backwards. David's platforms included increased fiscal conservancy and charter reform. I do think he is making headway. Though I often lament the adversarial approach, which I believe both are applying, though one more obviously than the other, in the end, I'm going to look at results. Either they were effective, or not.
Osborn Hiller May 11, 2012 at 03:07 PM
Creeky, as far as redistricting, it is a necessary process from time to time, as population shifts within town, and you need to maintain proportional representation. However, who is pushing it? Why? What is their agenda? Who draws the District lines? Do voters choose their Representatives, or will Representatives choose their voters?
Creeky May 11, 2012 at 03:17 PM
Osborn, I don't know the answers to your questions. I want to know as well, and they are on my list of things to learn about. I'm fairly certain half of those answers are right in our charter, and I plan to start there. I'll be seeking the remaining answers from our reps directly, and not just one or two, or just one party. I expect that process will take me a few months. But, for now, I've got to get back to work. No more posting for me today. These are great debates. I'm learning, and always seeing flags on areas I need to research. Thanks all who are contributing.

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