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Republicans Respond to First Selectman's State of the Town Address

This response to the First Selectman's State of the Town address was submitted by the Republican Caucus of the Representative Town Committee.

With the start of the 2013-14 budget process and the First Selectman’s ‘State of the Town’ address, we think it is an appropriate time for us to comment as well on the town’s financial situation.

The quality of life in Fairfield continues to make it one of the country’s most desirable places to live. However, high property taxes and a high cost of living are making it less and less affordable, both in absolute terms and relative to nearby communities. In fact, the universal message we hear from citizens is that the Town needs to slow the rate of spending because at the current trajectory, they will no longer be able to afford to pay their property taxes within just a few years.

Unfortunately, Fairfield is so burdened with increasing contractual and financial obligations that it is simply impossible to balance the budget and maintain the same level of services without increasing the tax burden on citizens. This year will be no different. 

Recent town meetings have been informed that certain “budget drivers” for the next fiscal year will continue to force significant increases related to retiree benefits and employee health care costs. Though the numbers are preliminary, it appears that just to maintain the current level of services, the budget would need to increase by a larger amount than we have seen in over a decade, continuing a long trend of increases at more than twice the rate of general price level inflation. With what we believe is an already lean operating budget, the only real option Town officials have in order to provide meaningful relief to taxpayers is to reduce and/or eliminate some current services.

Republicans have won a majority in the RTM for two consecutive terms presumably because taxpayers understood that we recognize that it is time to do something about the rate of spending and tax increases. We often feel like we were handed the impossible job of putting the toothpaste back in to the tube. If it's not impossible, then it's too messy and ugly for anyone else to accept.

High property taxes are a serious problem for our entire community that will only intensify if the budget continues to grow at the current rates. Ask anyone in real estate and they will tell you that high property taxes are turning off prospective buyers and hurting property values. Higher-end homeowners, who have the most to save by doing so, are moving to other towns, finding a similar quality of life, the same or even better quality schools, a better investment return, and lower tax rates.

This exodus shifts a growing share of the tax burden onto lower-end homes whose market value has been supported by their excellent cost/benefit ratio for people who have children in our public schools. Any benefits to the market value of Fairfield homes from our fine school system, amenities and natural resources are being eroded by the relentless, above-average increases in property taxes. It’s a downward spiral that if not addressed with both short-term and long-term solutions will lead our community into a new era of limitations that will be unimaginable to many today.

We realize that the news of significant increases in our “budget drivers” might lead the First Selectman to increase department budgets for the 2014 fiscal year by simply adding their cost on top of everything else. We believe the taxpayers of Fairfield will not accept that rationale.  We believe the majority of citizens want their Town officials to evaluate the cost of specific services and take tough measures to reduce and eliminate those deemed to be “non-essential,” “under-utilized” and/or “over-subsidized” by taxpayers.

We also believe that taxpayers and Town employees need to recalibrate short-term expectations about the level of services the Town and the School System can afford based on our current economic realities.  We believe it is the responsibility of Town officials from each body to lead that discussion throughout the budget process and to forge a consensus with one another and with taxpayers.  Then Town officials need to take action.

Beyond looking at service reductions, the RTM just passed an expanded Tax Relief for Elderly and Disabled Homeowners Program, which was a helpful step in maintaining affordability for some of our citizens who are having difficulty staying in their homes. But, at the same time, we must be cognizant that we cannot solve Fairfield’s problems by reducing taxes for seniors and raising them even more for everyone else. The only long-term solution that works for everyone is to restrain the growth in our spending.

Accordingly, there is much more work to be done. We urge the First Selectman to continue to recalibrate labor agreements by requiring employees to contribute to their health care and other benefits at rates comparable to the private sector. We urge him to increase efforts to attract new businesses here to expand the commercial tax base and provide relief to residential taxpayers.  We urge him to collaborate with the Superintendent of Schools and department heads to find ways to consolidate redundant functions.

Lastly, we owe it to taxpayers to show we are committed to reduce the growth of spending to no more than the rate of general price level inflation, and preferably lower, as long as general economic conditions continue to be as challenging as they have been since the Great Recession. We support and applaud similar efforts to control spending that are being proposed by members of the Board of Education who share our concerns. Despite tough times throughout the State of Connecticut and the nation as a whole, Fairfield’s spending over the last five years has risen 18.6 percent while the Consumer Price Index is up only 9.3 percent. How many Fairfield taxpayers have enjoyed an 18 percent increase in their disposable income since the peak for many in 2007-2008?

So we ask, on behalf of the taxpayers of Fairfield, that members of all bodies rededicate our efforts to deliver a cost effective, economically reasonable and restrained budget to the taxpayers. Rest assured that the Republican Caucus is fully committed to working tirelessly during the budget process with the First Selectman, members of other bodies, and members across the aisle in the RTM to see this through.

We look forward to a productive budget season and ask that all interested residents contact us to express their opinions. We thank First Selectman Tetreau and all other elected officials on various boards for their continued service to the Town. We wish our colleagues across the aisle a Happy New Year and we look forward to working with them over the remainder of our term to better serve the residents of our Town.

Lastly, we wanted to join the First Selectman in thanking all the town employees, emergency responders, local businesses and colleges, and volunteers who rose to the occasion in preparing for, coping with and recovering from Hurricane Sandy. There are countless stories that demonstrate the generous nature of our community. We also hope that those affected by Sandy are able to get their lives back to normal as quickly as possible.

 

Joseph J. Palmer, Majority Leader

Edward J. Bateson, Deputy Majority Leader

Creeky January 31, 2013 at 05:03 AM
The tone of this response is refreshing. I hope it's more than wishful thinking that we can have a less divisive and more cooperative budget season this year. I agree, we've got some tough choices. What is done is done, and we need to live up to the contracts we've written. We are going to need to reduce services. Longer term, I think we'll need to adjust course a bit. Commercial property. We need more. None of us want it. We need the tax revenue. And though the concept of for profit permitting is offensive to me, it is how we run, and we need permits and the fees they generate. On that point, Mike Tetreau is going to really need to think about his appointments. We can't have every app hanging up in Conservation for numerous rambling reports on information shortage and open ended requests for more information that give no indication of what will satisfy the request. We can't have a ZBA refusing reasonable requests because of what the property owner or tenant might do--we have a zoning department--that is their job. Speaking of zoning, our new man at the DPW, Joseph Michelangelo is going to need to look at his staff, and address the most adversarial personalities, as well as the general adversarial attitude of building, zoning, et cetera.
Creeky January 31, 2013 at 05:08 AM
Lastly, BOE and Dr. Title, how many administrators do you need? Why are you encouraging teachers to become admins with such better pay? Why are you making policy that increases the admin count? Get control over your unions or start using outside contractors. All union contracts, it is time to shut down the pensions and move all new employees to defined benefit, no ifs, ands, or buts. No defined benefit, no job. The unions have gained absolute power with the arbitration rules. They've left us with no choice. We must reduce the number of union employees until they come around to modern economic realities. Police, you're not excepted. Chief, if you can't or won't stand up to the union, maybe it's time to move on. You've built quite a department, you can do it again, somewhere else. Or, you can stay. Mike Tetreau, we need you to take a stand, either no new pensions or the chief goes.
Bud Morten January 31, 2013 at 09:23 AM
Editorial / First selectman picks a pension -- for himself01/24/2013 5:43 PM http://m.fairfieldcitizen-news.com/fairfield/pm_22626/contentdetail.htm?contentguid=IGx9L2ax
William Buck January 31, 2013 at 11:27 AM
Take a look at the arbitration rules, they have changed in favor of the towns and cities. It comes down to ability to pay. Secondly this dog piling on Felner is really odd. The guy follows the rules, he did not negotiate or for that mater even sign the contract the town has with the firemen. Check the signatories on the bottom of the contract and see why them signed a contract. Then make Felner operate by it. the town is not being sued by anyone for fire department impropriety. On the other hand the police department is fighting lawsuits fairly often although you can't read about it here. Also the fire department members sick time is one of t he lowest in town. On the other hand police department members use of sick time as added vactation goes on daily for years now and no one has a care.
bob evans January 31, 2013 at 11:45 AM
mr. buck,if fire chief felner is indeed a man of principal,he should have blown the whistle on this scam long ago.being legal doesn't excuse his silence.
Creeky January 31, 2013 at 02:12 PM
William, I have to assume you aren't speaking to me directly with the dog piling claim. I didn't take a single swipe at Chief Felner. When I said Chief, I was addressing Chief MacNamara. He displays a passion in his job: justice, safety, leadership. I was encouraging him to use that leadership to talk to his people about salary/benefits versus mission, and what sacrifices his people could make that would leave them best manned and equipped to do their job and be safe, given increasing pressure on his budget. As for Chief Felner, I've withheld comments, because I'm just not informed. What I heard the other day, about some very short position rotations, to bump salaries just before retirement, for a better pension, was too over the top. The accusation was that he had committed fraud. That's a high charge on someone whom has been with us a long, long time. I'm still giving him the benefit of the doubt. And as for the arbitration rules changing in favor of towns and cities, I admit, I've still more reading to do on this, but I believe the change is that the unions can no longer bankrupt a town, as happened in New Jersey. I'd say we have a long way to go.
Ajack February 05, 2013 at 04:55 PM
Fairfield, the town , through it's Planning and Zoning Commission, has allowed Fairfield to become over taxed. With little 'virgin' development land left in this town, this entity has decided , quite frankly , to pursue a process of 'gentrification' of our neighborhoods, at the expense of the middle class. What happens when a house valued at $300,000.00 is torn down and a huge monstrosity of a house is erected is that the town is the ultimate winner. Property taxed skyrocket as a result of the development ( more tax money to spend for the government , that's the reason they go along with this) and the property values for the dwellings on these surrounding smaller homes become devalued in real terms , becoming worth only the value of the land , even though the town will continue to seek a taxable value for the dwelling of the small home at a high rate.. That serves to keep the taxes at an artificially high rate on the smaller property, a rate influenced directly by the decision by the P & Z . P & Z sanctions what in effect has become a type of zoning change, all approved by our government to increase revenues at the middle class homeowner's expense.. When the P& Z allows a huge house to be built amongst smaller homes, these smaller homes should qualify for a REDUCTION in property taxes based on the fact that the Town has allowed the dwelling on the smaller property to become devalued as a result of their permitting practices.

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