Budget reductions made by the RTM last week create no risk to the town, despite the dire language made by the Town’s Chief Fiscal Officer, The First Selectman has plenty of options available to him before and after the start of the next fiscal year to find costs savings and/or make budget cuts. In fact, our hope is that the First Selectman will use this opportunity to initiate cost-saving reforms in the town hall that we believe should have been done prior to this year’s budget.
It is still unclear whether Mr. Hiller characterized these actions as ‘fiscal suicide’ for political purposes or out of just a loss for words the right words; perhaps having been caught of guard. Regardless of his intent, he is wrong. Similarly, he was wrong when he told the RTM that our surplus was dangerously low at $500k, a pretense which pushed many members to vote to bond just under $300k in overruns on a tank removal project at the downtown fire station keeping the already absorbed cost in the budget.
We were stunned, as was the Board of Finance, to hear from Mr. Hiller just two days later that the surplus was actually had $1.5 million. This is not to besmirch our CFO, who has served this Town loyally for many years. However, it is important to note because his words had a major influence on the debate of key votes in the last two RTM meetings and he turned out to be wrong in both cases.
The use of the phrase ‘fiscal suicide’ is timely because those who supported the budget reduction in question believe that is exactly the path we have been slowly taking for years. While we love our Town and are proud of the regional and national accolades we’ve received in recent years, financial mismanagement, short-sighted planning and simple incompetence are coming back to haunt us in a big way, making it impossible for us to control the growth of our budget and keep taxes down. Our key motivation is to reverse this trend.
After all, if cutting a measly $850k from a $273 million budget request is ‘fiscal suicide’, then what do you call it when you risk our employee pension fund by investing with Bernie Madoff (despite warning from members of our pension board) then you lose $45 million in value? Or what do you call it when you decide not to contribute to the pension fund for 10 years so when the Madoff scandal hits and the economy takes a nose-dive you are so under-funded that tax payers would have to contribute over $12 million each year just to get us back on track or risk losing our credit rating.
What do you call engaging in a partnership with a convicted felon to build an unnecessary third train station and then with stunning incompetence you sign an agreement that puts the Town on the hook for over $13 million on what was meant be over the long-run a ‘no cost’ proposition for Fairfield? Or what do you call it when your First Selectman violates the Town Charter by circumventing the RTM to enter into that agreement?
What do you call rejecting a bid from the No. 1 company on the Fortune 500 list, ExxonMobil, to move their corporate offices to Fairfield and instead allowing developers to build a brand new neighborhood of homes, that will be filled with kids, further increasing enrollment in our schools?
And what is the term for allowing Town employees to contribute just $35 per week towards their $23,000 health insurance premium, when in the private sector employees usually contribute 50% of their premium. What’s the term for handcuffing yourself as a chief executive by giving the Department of Public Works employees a ‘no layoff’ clause in their labor contract, just so the Town can hire private contractors for maintenance and projects?
We know what “fiscal suicide” looks like. It’s a private citizen debt burden that has already overwhelmed a substantial portion of the people. “Fiscal suicide” is a public-sector spending trajectory which shows no rationale for moderation or reform. “Fiscal Suicide” is spending more money than you have; borrowing to improve cash flow; and finally bankrupting your sources of income.
Town leaders have certainly made a lot of poor decisions to get us in the precarious financial situation we’re in right now, but reducing this year’s budget by $850k certainly wasn’t one of them.
RTM District 9