Members of Fairfield’s brought forward a proposal Monday that would ultimately reduce the Fiscal Year 2013’s from a 3.9 percent increase to a 2.2 percent increase over the current budget; a move that was met by a spectrum of opposition and support.
The proposal, which was presented by RTM Majority Leader David Becker, R-1, includes 2 percent decreases from nearly every department’s requested operating budget -- the largest decreases being $3 million from the Board of Education’s $149 million financial plan and roughly $300,000 each from the police, fire, and public works departments.
Line items meant to strengthen the town’s credit rating like the $1 million addition to the Human Services budget meant to shore up the town’s reserves, pension funds, and debt service, would be untouched by the proposal, as would the Fairfield’s contributions to nonprofit agencies.
“We’re looking at significant increases that are pushing people out of this town and something needs to be done,” Becker said.
If the current budget were to pass at next Monday’s RTM meeting untouched, it would mean a 23.50 mill rate, or a 4.58 percent tax hike, according to information provided by Chief Fiscal Officer Paul Hiller. The tax increase for a home assessed at $420,000 (with a market value of $600,000) would equate to $432 for the year, according to Hiller’s calculations.
Reductions by Department vs. Line by Line
The legality of slashing 2 percent from the top of each department rather than by combing through each line item was questioned. Town Attorney Stanton Lesser said it would violate both state regulations and town charter.
Becker did not agree and said the charter and state laws are vague in this aspect, so the RTM should have the ability decrease a department’s budget and leave the specific cuts to line items to the department heads. Amy Mezoff, R-4, said that a memo from Lesser and Assistant Town Attorney Eileen Kennelly from earlier in the month had stated that the RTM could reduce a department budget as a whole.
John Mitola, D-2, Kevin Hoffkins, D-7, and former RTM member Robert Greenberger all pointed out that shaving the budget line item by line item is how they RTM has historically conducted its vote.
‘Just as Random as They Are Unfair’
Regardless of whether it violates town charter or not, RTM members and the public remained split on whether 2 percent department cuts across the board are unfair or don’t go far enough to address the $10 million increase in spending.
Becker said that 2 percent is a “very simple” way of spreading the sacrifice throughout town government. But he added that if, for example, 2 percent was too deep a cut for police, “than it’s got to come from somewhere…we cannot sustain this growth.”
Resident Neal Fink said he came to the meeting expecting a cut, “but not the Draconian one before us now…I implore this body to consider the consequences of this arbitrary decisions.”
Fellow resident Suzanne Miska agreed. “The proposed cuts are just as random as they are unfair.”
Parents and PTA representatives echoed Miska’s sentiment. “I don’t think the budget is too controversial,” Meredith McCormack said. She said that Superintendent of Schools Dr. David Title put together a “straightforward, responsible” budget and did not attempt to restore cuts made in the current year budget.
Chair Pamela Iacono added that the proposed school budget is the leanest request in several decades.
‘We’re Taxed Out’
Resident Bob MacGuffie and others, however, want to see the RTM do more the zero out any increase in spending or taxes.
“I haven’t heard any cuts. I heard a $5 million increase,” MacGuffie said of the proposal. “Stand up, push back, and return the government to sound financial footing before it’s too late.”
John Levinson agreed, explaining he does not see a difference between a 4 percent increase and a 2 percent increase. “I want to see a zero percent increase.”
Julianne Sterling of equated the potential tax hike to trying to take blood from a stone. “We’re taxed out. The money’s not there for us to give you…people can’t afford to live here anymore.”’
The aspect missing from the conversation, according to Joe Palmer, R-4, is that there was a $10 million increase in spending in the current budget and a projected $10 million increase in Fiscal Year 13 spending if the majority’s proposal is not approved.
“We need the conversation to start to break the cycle of increase,” he said.
How the conversation pans out will be determined next Monday, May 7, the date slated for the RTM’s final budget vote.