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Letter: 'Town Budget Needs to Reflect Affordability'

Letter writer states he looks forward to this year's budget process for signs of change.

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 F1999-2013

  Board 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.

 

John Levinson

Dawn Llewellyn February 01, 2013 at 01:15 PM
As a taxpayer and a parent, I agree the Education Budget needs to be reduced. We all know the other town bodies will be asking the BOE for cuts. It is the BOE's fiduciary responsibility to look at the line items reflecting employment in Central Office. We need to trim and consolidate positions in Central Office staff without touching the programs and services we provide to students. At some point Dr. Title needs to stop threatening services and start looking at his infrastructure! I think Central Office has lost sight of their purpose about educating children!
Chuck E. Arla February 01, 2013 at 02:32 PM
Given these spending trend lines, I suggest that all foreign language instruction in our schools be devoted exclusively to Greek.
Perry February 01, 2013 at 08:46 PM
The chicken Board of Ed, the people we elected are passing the buck to the Board of Finance to slash the Ed Budget. Lets hope the Republicans on that board of the guts to do whats right. We are broke and we arn not going to take much more of this spending. PAY to PLAY should be the first thing done!
Chris Kral February 01, 2013 at 09:19 PM
Yes Perry, that's the answer. Pay to play. Always the same answer for non-athletes like yourself. What if a family can't afford to play? What then? What if more than one family can't afford to play? What then? Eliminate sports?
Taxpayer February 04, 2013 at 11:32 PM
The author writes "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?" Type the author's name into the Vision Appraissal town database, and you will see that he paid $7.75 million for his house in 2007. His annual taxes in 2011 as per the public database were $86,000. No wonder he wants to water down your children's education's education spending to reduced his tax bill. I assume he does not have children in the public school, and he cares more about his tax bill than about your children's learning. Is he hurting trying to pay his tax bill? As everyone in Southport knows, the author actually tore down his $7.75 million dollar house, and a built a brand new house in his place. Doesn't seem like he is hurting that much. Seems more like he just wants water down our children's education in order to reduce the large tax bill on his splendid home. Shame on you! If your millions are not enough to cover your tax bill, move to a less opulent house and leave our kids schools alone
James Macauda March 19, 2013 at 07:42 PM
Is anyone down at the assessor`s office in Fairfield awake? What is it going to take for these people to realize that you can`t keep raising taxes on homeowners throughout the town, just so you can meet the budget requirements for each coming year. Is anybody listening to to what has transpired with the yearling increases in our property taxes? They seemily have taken the attitude of "Let`s sweep it under the carpet and we`ll try again next year." Next year comes and they find themselves in the same situation. They figure "Let`s just find a bigger carpet. Nobody will notice." Well, the townspeople are noticing! We`re getting to the point that the town of Fairfield is becoming unaffordable to many. Our taxes are at a ridiculous all-time high. Further increases are on the horizon.Enough is enough!!!
voice of reason March 22, 2013 at 12:51 PM
I agree pay to play.... The word is PLAY - not learn. We are not mandated by the state to have kids PLAY. PLAY does nothing to increase test scores or increase your kid's ability to succeed in college. There are plenty of town organizations your kid can participate in (Pop Warner, Babe Ruth, etc)
Todd Chandler March 22, 2013 at 02:21 PM
voice of reason, I have to disagree with you here. Playing a sport does indeed teach children important skills. Skills that aren't taught anywhere else, but are absolutely important in the adult world. Leadership, cooperation, communication... these are all benefits of playing a sport. You seem to suggest its all just for fun. And, yes, its fun...but there's more to it than that. It gives kids something to do other than hang out on a corner downtown or plug themselves into an x-box. It provides healthy exercise that combats the growing obesity levels in our over-eating and under-excercising society. There are plenty of organizations in town that allow your kids to play sports. That's true. Where your statement doesn't work here is that those programs are all for children younger than high school. The pay-to-play issue is targeted towards high school sports (though it could apply to middle school sports teams as well, I suppose.) Let's have a debate around pay-to-play, but let's not say that sports are not worthwhile endeavors for our youth. You'll lose your argument quickly. Also--I have news for all of you--pay-to-play isn't going to knock your taxes down by any appreciable amount. Its time to stop focusing on ONE issue and understand that only by aggregating cuts to EVERY type of expenditure will we see true savings.
Todd Chandler March 22, 2013 at 02:22 PM
good one, Chuck. It took me a second.
Creeky March 28, 2013 at 12:56 AM
Todd, Please consider another view on this. Dr. Title seems to only be offering "make it hurt" solutions to the spending problem. I think pay to play sounds terrible. I support it. I support it because I don't know how else to communicate to him, look, whatever it takes. Pay to play, no more world languages, don't plow my street, don't fix the pothole, don't landscape the exit ramps, less hours at the library, less policing, I'll take it. Cut any service. No I don't want that, but if that is all the department heads can offer, some of us say okay. We'll accept it. The real estate compression is real. We're on an unsustainable path. Why do we have to wait until it's a complete horror show? Leadership isn't just giving people what they want, being charming and encouraging them to vote for their own largesse. It's about leading people to the hard choices for the greater good--not hoodwinking them--convincing them. We have a dearth of leadership. We don't live in Southport. We don't have a million dollar home. We took a huge income hit in the recession and though we are working, and succeeding in bringing our income up, we can't keep pace with the tax increases. We're looking at giving up our home. I don't seek pity, I offer a warning, how long can any of you sustain tax increases that are three or more times inflation? How fast are your salaries growing?
Creeky March 28, 2013 at 01:03 AM
I also think, you know, fair is fair. I don't care how rich anyone is. If you've got two kids in school, at $14k each, and you are paying $8k in property tax, it doesn't seem unreasonable to say I want the best education for my child, and I fail to see why that should increase in cost so significantly every year. The situation is not sustainable. The home values will fall off. The revenue will go down, and no matter how much taxes go up, we'll be in a Bridgeport situation. It just won't be enough. What data does the BOE need to see that spending more now will result in there being much, much less in 10 years time, for education? Do they not believe it? Or do they just think, my kids will be out of school by then, so whatever. I really feel either they aren't being presented with the data, or are just complete cowards and can't face the parents.
TheGrinch March 28, 2013 at 01:40 AM
WAKE UP WHOVILLE, do you know the "perks" you are paying for at Town Hall? Work attendance bonuses for non-union department heads averaging $800/employee, that's an extra $800 in pay just for showing up everyday! Longevity Bonuses for NON-UNION Department Heads! 3% increase for 5 years or more of employment, 3%increase for 10 years or more of employment, and another 3%increase for over 15%. Sometimes turnover is not a bad thing my friends in Whoville. Pension, can't even discuss, my hearts already gone. Bi-weekly health care contribution: $60, plus you get post retirement benefits if you've put in 10 years and you are over 62. 12-20 days of vacation between year 1 and 5 of employment, 23 days after 5 years and 25 after 10. You can carry a credit of 70 days of vacation a year! And if you leave, we pay you out your unused vacation up to 60 days! All that plus 5 personal days and 4 days for a funeral (even the grinch has to have a little heart on that one). You get 12 sick days, then at 5 years of employment you get 20 sick days, and at 10 years you get 30 sicks days! Who says it doesn't pay to be sick!!! 12 paid Holidays, workers compensation benefits, and a formalized separation package. All that and they didn't even have to bargain for it! we just gave it to them! Excellent Who-ers in Whoville!
TheGrinch March 28, 2013 at 01:41 AM
there is NO rule preventing Tetreau from raising non-union medical contributions and co-pays. The town benefits document says, "these annually reviewed benefits are established by the First Selectman and the Director of Human Resources," anyone else think there should be some oversight there? This is public money and two people who establish the benefits, actually are eligible for and benefit from them personally! TheGrinch thinks encumbrances of this size should go before the RTM, after all they vote on union benefits, why not non-union benefits as well?
TheGrinch March 28, 2013 at 01:53 AM
Town union contracts cannot be found online, why not? BOE contracts can be found online. Teachers will pay twenty percent (20%) of the cost share for the PPO plan in 2014-2015 or seventeen percent (17%) of the cost share for the HMO plan in 2013-2014. What do Town Hall department heads pay you ask? $60 bi-weekly. What are the co-pays at Town Hall? Cannot find the information online, but teachers pay Home & Office: $25 Urgent Care: $50 Outpatient Surgery: $50 Emergency Room: $100 Hospital Admission: $200. Mr. First Selectman, please make Town Employee benefits data public for taxpayers. Average Town Department Head Salary: $122,411. Average Teacher Salary: $55,000. Source: Fairfield Proposed Budget.
Private Sector Taxpayer. April 03, 2013 at 01:44 PM
Unnecessary Supervisory jobs, outrageous benefits that defy reasoning for normal pay & benefits in the REAL PRIVATE SECTOR MIDDLECLASS world. Private Sector Middleclass out of work, are now facing foreclosures & evictions, to pay for Public Sector Rendundant jobs, Pensions & Medical. VOTERS, vote term limits on every elected member of our town government, till we get change, ITS CHANGE OR BANKRUPTSY down the road.

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