Implementing the proposed property-tax increase would be counter-productive and continue, rather than address, long-term problems faced by the town. I am a strong supporter of the public schools, a registered democrat, and a believer in effective government. Unfortunately, sometimes, effectiveness requires doing less than we want in recognition of economic realities. Now is one of those times.
We need to cut the town budget. There is no alternative. This means cutting staff positions and programs. We should consider 2013 to be the high point in the number of people directly employed by the Town of Fairfield.
Regarding the Board of Education budget: Despite well-meaning claims, there is significant evidence in the public administration, applied policy, and management literatures to support the ability of school districts (and analogous organizations) to absorb major cuts in oversight and administrative positions -- e.g. non-teaching, district office positions -- without significantly impacting quality. Can it be advantageous to have these positions? Of course. But we do not have this luxury at the present time. Most of the office and supervisory positions in the Fairfield School system’s central office must be adjusted or eliminated so that the individuals can be assigned to existing teaching and administrative positions within the schools.
More broadly, there must be an immediate hiring freeze and then a contraction in the number of town personal. Staff cuts should occur through attrition with non-essential positions cut and people transferred to essential positions.
Equally important, nonessential capital expenditures must be postponed. This could include Penfield Pavilion, which could be leased to a private operator, and similar endeavors. Non-essential services need to be cut-back or made completely self-sustaining. Examples include raising or establishing fees for use of town recreational facilities, including ball-fields, golf-courses and recreational centers, so that the fees not only cover the staff and full-maintenance of the facilities but also a sufficient reserve fund. The town fireworks need to be postponed, at least for a couple of years.
Although I use and strongly support public libraries, given the current situation, the town subsidy for Pequot Library should be cut and the operating hours for the town libraries cut back during selected morning hours. Athletic teams must support more of their budgets. Volunteers, including from our able and eager senior community, and paid, part-time students should replace certain full-time positions in the libraries, recreational facilities, and after-school programs.
Property taxes in Fairfield have increased dramatically in the last 15 years, and far more than in most other towns. It is an unfortunate fact that Fairfield residents pay far more than is necessary for the services they receive, and far more than residents of other towns for similar services. This is not an indictment of the men and woman who work for the town. They work hard and do a good job. However, the structures within which they work are outdated. A coherent restructuring will take time but we must not wait to begin cutting back -- even in areas we value.