Letter: Two Sides to the Budget Debate

District 8 representative Tom McCarthy responds to District 5 representative Ann Stamler's letter to the editor published Thursday.

Taxes, taxes, taxes...that begins the preamble to the , but unfortunately limiting the size of a tax increase requires a significant amount of will more than anything else.

I read with great interest representative this week in which she expressed her frustration over the . As I believe she knows, I have great respect and admiration for her, because I know how hard she works. She does her homework, and she is among the faithful at the Board of Finance meetings, but I believe that in this case she has missed the mark. There are two sides to every argument, and in this case she seems to be among those who can see only their side.

If you take the position going into the budget proceedings that there are no areas in which you can cut back, no town services that you would consider doing without, by extension you are also taking the position that you can go to the well of taxpayer dollars as many times as you feel is necessary. If that is your starting point, then you are neutral in so as far as proposing budget cuts at a line item level. That is how Representative Stamler and others prefer the budget debate be framed.

If, however, you believe that there must be a limit to which you can place burdens upon tax payers. If you believe that the trajectory our town’s budget increases must be checked, and you believe that department heads are far better qualified than any member of the RTM to identify activities within their own departments which are no longer cost effective, then you also understand that proposing budget adjustments at a department level and allowing department heads to then manage to those adjustments is the more reasonable approach.

That was the tack which the majority party members had intended to take. That was the approach which was initially blessed by the town attorney and subsequently reversed. Whether intentionally obstructionist or not, everyone who has gone through budget proceedings in the past understands that being forced to cut at a line item level is a protracted exercise in micro management. Furthermore, there is no basis for the administration’s insistence that town legislators be made to do so. In this case the Town Charter is the final arbitrator and the Town Charter is silent on this point.  

If it was important enough that budget adjustments be made at line item level by town bodies it would have been spelled out as such in the Town Charter. In point of fact, it is not. The manner in which the budget proceeding ultimately played out was in reaction to the administration’s insistence on this point.

Let us recognize that when it comes to the town budget there are clearly philosophical differences upon which well intentioned people on either side of the argument will agree to disagree. This is true of any argument, but let us not treat this as something more than a disagreement. We cannot cry "foul" simply because someone on the other side of an argument chooses not to frame that argument in the terms which we might prefer.



Tom McCarthy

RTM District 8

Listen first May 14, 2012 at 11:35 AM
Rep. McCarthy, well reasoned points....and I appreciate the lack of inflammatory dialogue. While I don't completely agree with you, I only especially take exception to this quote: "The manner in which the budget proceeding ultimately played out was in reaction to the administration’s insistence on this point." So the slashing at the contingency fund -- the fund that protects not only our financial rating but also proactively safeguards the town against emergencies (which DO happen, obviously!) -- was because the RTM majority wouldn't take the time to make cuts from departments which had already said that a budget cut would have no meaningful impact on them? Or have any meaningful debate on other more significant cuts to other departments? Then WHY did Mr. Becker waste his time with "starting this conversation" and then have the RTM refuse to HAVE this conversation???? Cuts could have been made in a far more responsible manner than they ultimately were -- a responsibility ultimately shirked by this Republican majority. Why did they bother with all the sub-committee meetings at which departments defended their budgets? And the RTM has complained for years about not having the right to cut from BoE line items, yet given the opportunity they completely drop the ball on that responsibility.
Ffld mom May 14, 2012 at 12:59 PM
Mr. McCarthy, if your premise coming into this debate was to cut the budget as much as possible, why didn't you ask any department head where they could cut or what a 2 percent cut would look like during the month that the budget was before the RTM? And when Mr. Becker finally proposed the 2 percent cut, and department heads came back with what that meant, why didn't you cut the departments that said there would be no impact? If you felt so strongly that we could cut the contingency fund, why not cut these departments too? Wouldn't that have helped hold the line on the budget even more? And WHY would you instead follow that cut up with a motion to put money back into the budget to pay for a lawn mower at the golf course that that department head said could wait another year? I also do not understand why you chose this particular cut when everyone was telling you not to make it- including the republican led board of finance? Why was this not identified as a possible cut on April 30, the day your Republican moderator laid out at the beginning of the Rtm process for when all proposed cuts should be stated, I believe so the public could comment and they could be properly vetted and debated? Everyone would like to see their taxes as low as possible, but most of us want the people we elect to take a responsible, thoughtful approach, asking questions, listening to the people they represent, and THEN making a decision. The RTM's "strategy" didn't achieve that.
Jim Eastwood May 14, 2012 at 01:14 PM
Good Morning ALL !!! Tom very well put !!! No one is asking for service cuts, just GOOD MANAGEMENT. think it is time to Stop the "Becker Bashing" and heed the warning signs !! Question for today: How Long will Dr. Title be in Charge of the Board of Education, How long will his programs be in place ???? Why do we change direction every couple of years???? Perks??? Maybe we need to (Like the Head of a Major Town Department did(or is it does??) Lock the RTM in a room , and SLAP them in the Side of their heads !!! Start Bringing Tax Base such as GE into this Town and realize the Home owner cann't afford the increasing Tax burden. Better, Modern and More effective management is what is needed NOT just to Throw money at a problem !!! Two sides to every story!! as far as the RTM "No Taxation without Representation" Have a Great Day !!!!!! :-))))
Mike Mears May 14, 2012 at 02:25 PM
Thanks Tom for the thorough article. Having served on the RTM, and having Proposed Line item cuts to keep the Year over Year budget, excluding Union Contracts, stable. I understand the amount of work it takes to do the exercise. It is clear that the origination of any discipline must come from the town management team. There are 50 RTM members, it is almost impossible for anyone to agree, even if the GOP had a supermajority. Tom and David, I commend you for at least trying to propose an alternative to the painful Line item budget discussion process. In short though, I don’t think the reduction of the Contingency fund was a well thought out proposal, especially with the potential of Interest rates rising over the next year. If rates rise and our rating is reduced to AA from AAA, the amount of Interest payments will increase faster than if we were a AAA municipality. The Budget is $270M Debt is $190M & debt service is (est) $8M per year including principle, a ratio of 3% of income. Our debt load is 70% of income, but it’s a slippery slope, as interest rates rise, we will find our self having to put more money into financing. That is something the Tax payers will not understand and will not stomach. Our current rating is AAA, as of May 8th, we will see how the rating agencies view this action in a year. The truth is, there is a lot of room in the budget, what services will be cut? With a 5% reduction from last year, the town will still operate fine.
fully involved May 15, 2012 at 02:16 PM
Reps. McCarthy and Stamler, Thank you, both for raising good points on both sides of the questions. I think the best place to start is by asking the question, "What is the proper role for our tax payer dollars?" For example, embedded in the BoE budget is upwards of $500k or more of maintenance and janitorial fees to cover Building rentals that are not charged for. Our own Park and Rec Dept. utilizes the schools facilites for basketball, summer camps and the like, incurring overtime costs for Saturdays and Sundays, as well as for prep time in August for school startup, because the camps are in the building. Additional costs are incurred for heating and A/C. Wouldn't it make more sense to have the Park and Rec. charge a fee for these programs that reflects the true cost and reimburse the BoE for the additional costs involved, rather than have the taxpayers subsidize these cost as a "educational cost."
Anna Pinto June 17, 2012 at 03:00 PM
Things that really irk me about Fairfield and proposed fixes: **Unionized public employees that pay only squat for their benefits. I pay over $900 per month as my half of medical insurance. My employer pays the other half. Every public employee should be forced to pay 50% of the actual cost of their insurance. **Defined Benefit Pension plans for all public employees should be trminated and replaced with Defined Contribution Plans whierein the employee contributes 10% of their gross wages and the Town contributes a 5% matching contribution, like in the "real world" ** Public employees should be stringently evaluated for satisfactory performance based on outcomes [for teahers read sucess of students] and poor performers put immediately on probation. If they don't improve, OUT! **Town and Education budgets should be set at 10 % LOWER than prior year and our "Talented and Highly Paid" Administrators and Leader requested to come up with austerity processes--slightly larger class sizes, consolidated Houses in HS's and fewer Administrators should be on the table. ** No more final year "overtime bump ups" for our Union and non Union workers which have the effect of creating excessive pensions which frankly we can not afford. Pension should be based on regular wages--no overtime bump. More to follow. Anna P.
Anna Pinto June 17, 2012 at 03:00 PM
More from Anna P. ** Zoning and Building Boards should stop blocking progress. Light commercial use of property, such as across from the Hi Ho Hotel is a good thing. It raises revenue and rids the Town of an unsighly blemish such at that Garden place ther now. ** Stop letting the crazy environmentalists block a reasonable approach to thinning out the rediculous deer population in this Town. All things in moderation. The weirdos blocking this have never had a near death experience of hitting a large deer at night nor had Lyme disease. Lets get things back in balance. That's it for now. Anna P.
maryHelen Melnick December 09, 2012 at 05:01 PM
when it comes to the town budget especialloy the board of education no one ever talks about putting a cap on the administrative saleries. I personally think all are way too high and need to cap them. We still live in a poor economy and even though there are more jobs posted in the paper we need to be real about how high is too much for paying an administrator.


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