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Fairfield RTM Reps Propose Two Percent Cuts to Dept. Budgets

Under the Representative Town Meeting GOP's proposal, brought forward by Majority Leader David Becker, R-1, each department's requested budget would be cut from the top by 2 percent. Department heads would determine which line items to reduce.

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.

John Jameson May 05, 2012 at 01:39 AM
You are new to town. Here in Fairfield, Republicans hold the majority on both the RTM and the Board of Finance. It was that way last term, as well. So, at least as far as Fairfield is concerned, "overspending Democrats" is oversimplified reasoning. The GOP on the RTM does not need the Democrats votes to cut their $4.4 million from the budget. Heck, they could cut it $10 million if they wanted and bring you your zero tax increase. But I doubt that even the $4.4 million will pass--oh, the Republican RTM members will bluster and make enough noise to pander to get votes so they can say "well, at least we tried," even though they know they can do whatever they want. See, I think even they realize there is a tipping point and if they push too hard, those cuts, while giving some tax relief now, could send the town over an edge from which recovery would be very difficult and very costly.
Creeky May 05, 2012 at 03:38 AM
The suggestion that too many cuts, in the wrong areas, "could send the town over an edge from which recovery would be very difficult and very costly," is not without merit. At the same time, the assumption that we can sustain continuous tax increases of ~5%, without it damaging home values carries an identical risk. The fact that I heard no consideration of compromise, whatsoever, from those objecting, in the RTM, or here on these forums, quite disheartening. Equally frustrating is the constant attacks on the Republicans of pandering for votes, while the Dems are innocent? I suppose it is just a coincidence that none had a new argument against these cuts? All repeated the same lines. People just aren't that identical. That behavior was not debate. It was politics, and planned. The education system in Fairfield was a primary driver for my wife and I to buy here. Looking at the rate taxes have increased, and will continue to, we are increasingly convinced, we won't be able to afford to stay long enough to see kids through school here. If even one Dem had suggested dialog on a compromise, such as, a new motion, accepting all cuts from Becker's motion, with the exclusion of the BOE, at least for the purposes of dialog, then I would have some faith in this process, that its is about the good of the town, and not just politics and pandering. Continued...
Creeky May 05, 2012 at 03:39 AM
Conversations, debates, don't hurt. We can have them. We can consider ideas. We could learn from the discourse. But we, particularly the RTM, and especially it's Democrat members, act as if any suggestion of fiscal responsibility is just evil greed. I'm frustrated by Dr. Title's email to the PTA, that there would be little choice but to eliminate 40 teachers, not a single administrator? Not a secretary? Not living with some old sports uniforms for a few more years, or a few less copiers? Can't cut a class trip or two? Nothing to do but fire teachers eh? Let's leave off education, as we all know, we've got more students coming in, which means costs will continue to escalate, so given that, and that education is such a priority, wouldn't we consider that we may need to get more conservative in other areas, to fund our ever-growing education bills? Automatically, if Police are cut, crime goes up? We can't look the fact the our police department volunteered Fairfield to fund all Homeland Security inspections in a third of Long Island Sound? We can't cut the marine program, when they don't even have jurisdiction? We can't share a SWAT with other towns? Or use the state Swat? There is nothing that can be done? Continued...
Creeky May 05, 2012 at 03:39 AM
Our P&Z department needs more resources than it did when building, home additions, et cetera permit apps were an order of magnitude higher six-eight years ago? Really, there is nothing we can do, but, spend, spend, spend? We can't even talk about it, or we're greedy? We're pandering? There is no consequence to the town of 5% tax hikes, ad infinitum? None? Conversation, debate, compromise, these are the foundations of democracy. After all, why are you all here talking, rather than on Facebook, discussing internet videos, and your cat's latest funny behavior?
John Jameson May 05, 2012 at 02:31 PM
I think the problem stems, in part, from the GOP's tactics both this year and last. Despite hours of committee meetings to hear from the department heads, the Republicans give no inkling of what they're thinking of proposing until the last minute. Last year they didn't even want to share their list of proposed cuts with the Democrats on the RTM or the public. They suggested the Dems look over the shoulder of one of their Republican counterparts. I have no problem with discussion or compromise; I have no problem if some cuts have to be made. As I've said before it's a careful and difficult balance to provide the proper quality of life and keep taxes affordable. I'm not registered with either political party, but I think the Dems' reaction may be a result of being blindsided by the GOP two years in a row. Of course, that really shouldn't matter but human nature is human nature.
Creeky May 05, 2012 at 04:32 PM
John Jameson, Your remarks are level-headed and reasonable. I'd rather take time to consider them than blast retort. I think tactics is the keyword, and much of the source of my frustration. Not defending the Republicans, but I think the Dems have been applying some tactics as well, throughout Flatto's administration, and still continuing, but I am not yet sufficiently informed to go casting dispersions. I think they are coming to light though, and the coming sessions will be anything but peaceful.
Newtotown May 05, 2012 at 04:52 PM
Right, John, according to your pretzel logic the Dems are always and right and the Repubs the bad actors. Meanwhile, in Harford, the medical marijuana bill was passed. Anybody watching the destruction of our state that is going in Hartford?
John Jameson May 06, 2012 at 01:37 AM
That's not what I said, Newtotown. If the Dems were in the majority and were pulling these stunts, I'd say the same thing. The GOP has the majority, and could easily cut the $4.4 million, but I bet they don't.
Clyde Newman May 06, 2012 at 02:57 AM
Some savings can be found salaries I would guess: http://fairfield.patch.com/articles/title-tops-fairfield-s-highest-wage-earners Especially since the town hired several new principals in the last couple of months: http://fairfield.patch.com/articles/fairfield-ludlowe-high-school-headmaster-resigns See comments
Susan Bellissimo May 06, 2012 at 02:15 PM
I received an email May 3, 2012, from Carolyn Richmond,RTM member District 1, in response to my email Subject: 2% “across the board” cut. Carolyn Richmond: “Thank you for your input. As a former high school science teacher, I value the importance of education and know that it is the teacher and parental support that mainly determines the quality of the education a child receives.” Susan Bellissimo: The proposed 2% “across the board” cut would mean less teachers. This would directly decrease the quality of education that the Fairfield Public School’s could provide. Supporting Evidence: Doctor Title responded in his blog posted on May 4, 2012 to the question of how the “2% “across the board” cut would effect our school system. “we would need to eliminate approximately 25 to 30 certified positions (those holding teacher certification)...I can say that this reduction would significantly degrade the quality of in the educational program for the Fairfield Public Schools...Because our requested increase of 2.4 percent is virtually all because of enrollment growth and contractual increases, all of the $3 million reduction would result in a reduction in programs and services. 1 For the full post http://fairfieldschools.org/blog/?p=177&utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=budget-statement
Susan Bellissimo May 06, 2012 at 02:23 PM
Carolyn Richmond: Our non-instructional spending is what is too high when comparing Fairfield to our DRG (see Prismatic audit). Susan Bellissimo: Dr. Tile’s salary is the lowest compared to surrounding towns, considering our schools have the most, staff, buildings, & students. We are lucky to have such a smart, dedicated, and honest man for as superintendent. Supporting Evidence: State Dept. of Ed Web Site http://sdeportal.ct.gov/Cedar/WEB/ct_report/SnapshotSelect.aspx All salaries reported by The State Department of CT by district for 2011http://sdepo rtal.ct.gov/Cedar/WEB/ct_report/StaffDTViewer.aspx. **Easton Courier file:///Users/mom/Documents/School%20General/Former%20Easton%20Superintendent%20Takes%20Top%20Salary%20Spot%20%7C%20The%20Daily%20Easton.webarchive ANUAL SALARY Fairfield $225,000 Easton $230,000** Westport $238,255 Weston $217,458 STAFF - Administrators, Counselors, Social Workers, Psychologists, General Education Teachers, Instructional Specialists, Other Professionals, Special Education Fairfield 978 Easton 96 Westport 606 Weston 237 SCHOOL BUILDING Fairfield 17 Easton 3 Westport 8 Weston 4 STUDENT TOTAL Fairfield 10,064 Easton 1,098 Westport 5,720 Weston 2,521 AVERAGE COST PER STUDENT (% = total budget $ spent for administration, operation & maintenance) Fairfield $14,834 (21.2%) Easton $13,872 (21.2%) Westport $17,454 (22.6%) Weston $17,837 (21.2%)
Susan Bellissimo May 06, 2012 at 02:23 PM
Carolyn Richmond: I also know having worked in and with a number of school districts in different states that there are many ways to achieve the goal of quality education. I feel that we can maintain our goals for Fairfield while ensuring a sustainable and sound financial future for Fairfield. Susan Bellissimo: Please explain to us, in what way do you propose we achieve these goals? Supporting Evidence: TBD - Ms. Richmond
Susan Bellissimo May 06, 2012 at 02:25 PM
Carolyn Richmond: The process of reviewing the budget was extended this year with the RTM holding additional meetings for review as well as the normal committee meetings. It is at the April meeting that any member of the RTM proposes changes with the final vote a week later. The analysis of the budget begins when we get our budget books in March and continues through this week. Susan Bellissimo: I completely agree with Amy Pyle’s letter to the RTM May 3, 2012 “I sat in on most of the April 9 meeting where Dr. Title presented his budget to the RTM. The atmosphere and questioning were cordial. I was relieved and impressed with the level of professionalism displayed by the RTM members and Dr. Title and his staff. I don’t recall Rep. David Becker proposing any additional cuts at that meeting. Actually the RTM members seemed impressed and satisfied with the budget that was presented. There was no hint of what was to come on April 30. Mr. Becker, I think, surprised everyone with his last-possible-moment proposal for 2% “across the board”. That was the last meeting for public debate, discussion, and comment. So now, where are we? After all the hard work, careful consideration, countless hours spent, Mr. Becker decided to subvert the process by demanding that everyone begin again, when there is no time for proper debate and discussion.
Susan Bellissimo May 06, 2012 at 02:25 PM
Susan Bellissimo: I completely agree with Amy Pyle’s letter to the RTM This is not the way our government is supposed to work. It is a representative democracy. Why even bother having the BoE, BoS and BoF work on the budget at all if this is the way it ends? Where was Mr. Becker and the rest of the RTM when Dr. Title presented his budget? Why didn’t they ask Dr. Title how he would cut 2% more from the already pared down budget? That was the time to talk about it, not at the moment before the vote.
Creeky May 06, 2012 at 06:29 PM
Susan, Dr. Title has no choice but to cut 30-40 teachers? None? Couldn't eliminate a few copiers, or perhaps an admin or two? Can't get a few more years out of team jerseys? There is absolutely nothing he can do, but go after the most emotional issue, cut teachers? Okay, let's say it's true. There is nothing he can do. And where was the bipartisanship? Where was the dialog? Where was the debate? Not a single Dem says, I can't go to the voter's with that, let's cut other department's 4% and leave the BOE alone. Nope. Not a single suggestion of alternate approach, not a single attempt at compromise, just the identical complaint, over and over, we don't know the effects of these cuts, all the while, whining, of how late the meeting is running. It wouldn't run late, if what is said is not repeated, and we move forward. And this continued claim that no effort to reduce spending was made at the committee level just isn't true. Those whom continue to claim it are just making themselves look the fool. And, the RTM opinions at that level mean nothing. The guidance provided by the First Selectman drives those budgets. This is the mechanism to feed back to him, if we don't get some teamwork and bipartisanship, we're not approving your budget across the board. Continued...
Creeky May 06, 2012 at 06:30 PM
Hiller claims that budgets have nothing to do with credit ratings? I could continue but, what is the point. The Republicans took it to the people, out in the open, and they are lambasted for surprises? Yet every Dem had a prepared statement? The Dems are playing dirty politics, yes, I'm sure they'll save us. Goodness gracious, they didn't even debate. Let's stop throwing stones and try to solve the problem.
Fairfield native May 06, 2012 at 09:20 PM
Susan- THANK YOU for doing your homework and educating us all!! I look at your stats and it looks like we spend less per student than our neighboring towns. Perhaps they care about the education of their children more than the RTM does in Fairfield. Yes...let's cut out a few copiers ...I got a good giggle on that one! I know- we can go back to the mimeograph- that should save us about 2% http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u0wUcCInJ2o ....how about slate tablets? They were good enough for those in the 1800's! We are going to debate on the use of copiers in our schools? This borders on ridiculous! Am I the only one who finds comments like this ridiculous? Does anyone know how much 2% decrease is going to save my family in money? Has the tax collector come out with this yet?
Osborn Hiller May 07, 2012 at 12:23 AM
Fairfield Native, The 2% reductions will save the District 1 Southporters much more than us, which is all the GOP on the RTM is concerned about. And yeah, we'll be able to save $3,000,000 by eliminating copiers. Suuuuuuure.
Osborn Hiller May 07, 2012 at 12:26 AM
The new Principal at Osborn Hill is coming from another elementary school within the Fairfield school district. How will you get savings from that?
Osborn Hiller May 07, 2012 at 12:39 AM
Creeky, Moody's just upgraded our credit outlook. So our budgets must not be too out of line. The GOP is playing dirty politics. They have the majority. Becker pulled his stunt in the most spineless way possible. He did it at the last minute with no warning, and he doesn't have the stomach to actually make the painful decisions as to where the cuts should come from. I suggest Dr. Title make the BOE cuts as painful and visible as possible, so the parents of the town can see the damage the GOP's "austerity" causes.
Creeky May 07, 2012 at 01:18 AM
Sounds like you two have it all figured out: "I suggest Dr. Title make the BOE cuts as painful and visible as possible, so the parents of the town can see the damage the GOP's "austerity" causes." Like watching people burn their own neighborhoods during the Watts Riots. There, that will teach...ummm...someone.
Clyde Newman May 07, 2012 at 01:47 AM
Do you know about the 3 other principals?
Osborn Hiller May 07, 2012 at 01:58 AM
Dr. Title last year did a very good job avoiding front-line teacher reductions with the cuts that were demanded. This year, Dr. Title submitted a responsible, reasonable budget, only to be thanked by the town GOP with last minute demands for an arbitrary $3M cut. So why should he reduce the visibility of the cuts and reward the GOP RTM members for shorting our kids? And yes, the cuts will hurt our children, in higher student-teacher ratios and reduced curriculum opportunities. The low hanging fruit is gone.
Fairfield native May 07, 2012 at 02:14 AM
looks like a duck and sounds like a duck....
Creeky May 07, 2012 at 02:40 AM
I'm missing the last minute part of this accusation. Attorney Lesser's first memo is dated April 10th. In fact, the GOP had asked for cuts in many ways, but the Selectman's office kept changing the requirements, no, no good, by department, no wait, changed my mind, line by line, no wait, can't do that... I'm not defending the Republicans. I've observed though, that the dirty politics are a lot dirtier, and more universal, than the average RTM meeting indicates. There are no simple solutions to complex problems. I still think the Dems, particularly in the minority, could have offered a compromise, like, cut other departments 4% and BOE not at all. Instead, they played politics. Who really has the best interests of the parents at heart? If cuts do occur, and the Dems could have offered compromise, instead of repeating identical prepared statements until midnight, all the while complaining about how late the meeting is running... I'd encourage you to take some time to consider that, before returning to the entertainment of criticizing my desire for compromise and dialog. Otherwise, you could end up convinced I'm rich (that's hilarious), live in a big house (nope, cape, 0.15 acres), line in Southport (wrong again), or District 2 (nope), am greedy (no), don't care about our schools (quite wrong)...
Osborn Hiller May 07, 2012 at 04:02 AM
Creeky, I don't know your situation. I've referred to District 1/Southporters being the drivers of the cuts because many of the most vocal proponents of the cuts at the meeting last Monday identified as District 1/Southporters, including Mr. Becker. So much so that a parent from District 1 felt the need to point out not all residents from D1 were against school spending. An honest discussion is difficult because, I believe, the GOP has operated in bad faith. 1) by introducing their cuts at the last meeting before the RTM vote, without any warning, which might have brought out a stronger parent voice, and 2) By absolving themselves of line itemizing the specific cuts.
Creeky May 07, 2012 at 05:37 AM
That gets at the point. It isn't true there was no warning. As I was talking on the phone, emailing, and meeting in person with GOP RTM members, I was fully aware they were seeking cuts, for months. I'm looking through emails as I type this, I see one from January 4th of this year, concerning efforts and strategies towards increased fiscal conservancy. I also learned they were being given a moving target by the executive branch, as to how those cuts could be submitted. Each time any cut was suggested, rather than dialog, they were told it was unacceptable procedurally. This went as far as the instructions they were given, as to how they could present motions, were changed, after they had put in many hours calculating and drafting these approaches. The public was surprised by these cuts at last week's meeting, as they were warned before every other, at the last moment, that their motions would be rejected as "out of order," and not to submit, and though this tactic was still attempted at last nights meeting, they decided, time was up, they had to present something. The worst part, that this political gamesmanship, which is what made Flatto and Saxl's behavior so offensive, appears to still be happening, and still be working. Continued...
Creeky May 07, 2012 at 05:37 AM
This is why I stay in these debates. It occurred to me, had I not been in these dialogs, I would have been surprised too, and considered this approach quite unsporting. For anyone here that demonstrates reason in their dialog, I continue, with this goal, not to convince them but, to just get them to consider, has anything really changed? Are you certain the Dems were surprised? Are you certain this was all a dirty trick? I'm not asking for dialogue on this. I'm encouraging you, to ask yourself, if these cuts happen, was it because the executive branch was surprised by these requests for cuts, (as well the every Dem member of the RTM, including the minority leader) or was it because they had a choice, to openly debate them, and compromise with the majority, or, attempt a backroom political strategy to prevent them from coming to light, and that strategy failed. Thanks for talking. I admire your determination to seek the best education for your children. Family is everything to me.
Jim Eastwood May 07, 2012 at 06:21 AM
Good morning All I Have been following this debate for several days !!!! NICE JOB Creeky !!!!! What Mr Becker is saying is correct--Stop with the Unquestioned Spending, Show some respect for the Fairfield Residents, and account for where the Money is going. Mr Title may have done a Good Job, but remember he(Like other top administrators of the Board of Education) is Not from HERE !!!! and perhaps is a "Carpet Bagger" Here Today(for 2 to 5) and Gone tomorrow. What the Taxpayer needs to know is the OTHER PERKs that he (And others get !! Look into the expenses that Truely can be and need to be cut !! Right on Mr Becker !!!!! Right one District One !!!!! Right on Creeky and others !!! To All the Moms, Mr. Hiller and others who seem to be concerned about "The Kids" Stop for a second and figure out who is going to pay for this.??? In this time of economic Hard ship, where Private Industry(and Businesses) are Down sizing , and Holding the line on PERKS , we need to apply the same to Community matters. Sorry I do NOT buy "The Children will suffer" Logic. Remember the United States was founded on "NO TAXATION WITHOUT REPRESENTATION" !!!!! You Go Creeky and Mr. Becker and Others !!!!! Have a Great Day and Dig Deeper !!!!!
Osborn Hiller May 07, 2012 at 11:49 AM
Creeky, thanks for the kind words. Education is indeed important, and is the future our country. It would be nice if the older, affluent residents in District 1 felt the same way. I don't know what emails you had access to. I heard Dr. Title in person speak several times on the budget process, as late as April, and he expressed cautious optimism that, because his budget was reasonable, it should pass with little fanfare. If Dr. Title did not express alarm, why would parents know this was coming? I do agree with you that the town GOP knew this was being planned, and they knew exactly what they were doing, springing it at last Monday's meeting.

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