Excellent letter, Mr. Palmer. Without a significant change in our town's attitude to spending, we are likely doomed to seeing our town budget continue growing at twice the rate of inflation or more. A growing chorus of people say we simply can’t afford this.
Times have changed
Over the last 15 years, the cumulative growth in the Consumer Price Index (CPI) was 40%. How many Fairfield families saw our take home pay rise by that much? Over the same period, Fairfield's school budget is up 111%, nearly 3x the CPI, and driving our town spending up 104%.
Cumulative Spending Growth F1999-2013Board of Education Town Ops Total Fairfield CPI % Increase 111% 55% 104% 40%
This is the spending environment our BOE, town officials and we citizens have become accustomed to. Each budget cycle town hall asked for more money, we paid, and services grew. Times have changed. Many citizens in town are out of work, underemployed or just not making as much money as we were before. Our housing values have declined sharply and remain under pressure. Ask any realtor about the effect that Fairfield’s high taxes have on our current home values.
Town budget needs to reflect affordability
At Tuesday night's Board of Education (BOE) meeting, after several hours of formal deliberation the BOE voted to accept a Fiscal 2014 education budget that is 4.7% higher than last year's. They went into the meeting targeting $1.5M or more in savings. Then shaved not $1.5M, but $342,000 (0.2%) off the $156M budget as proposed by Dr. Title. Many BOE members explicitly stated they were leaving any real reductions in the 4.7% growth up to our Board of Selectmen, Board of Finance and RTM.
On a positive note, the BOE did dialog about "affordability" in a way not seen in many years. Some members clearly understand that we taxpayers collectively don't have the ability to pay ever higher taxes to fund our schools, or other municipal programs and projects.
This attitude toward spending must change. It's simply not sustainable, not affordable, for taxpayers. Serious improvements in our school’s and town’s efficiency need to be found; every capital project and service currently offered needs scrutiny. Keep those services of greatest value, cut back or eliminate others. It’s a hard job, but needs to be done. That’s what households do when money gets short or new priorities emerge. Fairfield’s citizens must look beyond ourselves to the needs of our community as a whole, as we can’t afford a another decade of spending increases that double inflation.
I believe Mr. Tetreau understands this. Mr. Mayer does. I believe the Board of Finance and RTM collectively understand this. Most important, I believe the public understands this. I am looking forward to this year’s budget process for signs of change.