West Hartford Budget Cuts Criticized

West Hartford Budget Cuts Criticized

There are 197 comments on the Hartford Courant story from Jun 26, 2008, titled West Hartford Budget Cuts Criticized. In it, Hartford Courant reports that:

"A lot of the cuts seemed to be very petty," said group Vice President Judy Aron.

Join the discussion below, or Read more at Hartford Courant.

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Fed Up

Oxford, CT

#1 Jun 26, 2008
The budget changes approved by the Town Council also includes additional revenue from the sale of building lots totaling 2 acres (land owned by the town) on Belcrest Road and Chapman Road - bordering Rockledge Gold Course. The net sales proceeds are forecast at $ 670,000.

It isn't prudent to use these type of one shot revenues to adjust this budget. What does Mayor Slifka and the Town Council plan to sell next year?

Since: May 08

Meriden, CT

#2 Jun 27, 2008
The Board of Ed needed to cut administrator positions and reduce certain special programs. Terry Schmitt, Board of Ed Chair, really stuck it to conservative leaning people in town by eliminating rank and file teachers -- forcing class sizes higher. He is hoping to spark some kind of backlash against Conservative principles in WH. He is a terrible Board Chairman, and I don't see how he can call himself an Ordained Christian minister. He may be ordained, but he does not represent Christianity. This pastor had the gall to give a speech at the Hall High graduation last week about the Chaos Theory and pluralism. He managed to sneak in a few jabs on the Bush administration also. WH Residents, we must vote Schmitt and his fellow Dems out next year. This Minister of Education cannot be trusted. In Zeus we trust cannot rule the day....
Bob

Windsor, CT

#3 Jun 27, 2008
As a retired dentist, I am an expert in municipal finance. Although I know almost nothing in the way of specifics on this $200 million dollar operating budget, I know there has to be some waste somewhere because I once saw some public works employees standing around doing nothing. My plan is simple. The Town Council should cut all the services I don't use and increase funding for the ones I do.

Even better, public employee union leaders should be kidnapped and replaced with lookalikes who will agree to benefits concessions, magically reducing taxes without any consequences. Oh, and let's go three months into the fiscal year without a budget. What could possibly go wrong?

Since: May 08

Meriden, CT

#4 Jun 27, 2008
Bob wrote:
As a retired dentist, I am an expert in municipal finance. Although I know almost nothing in the way of specifics on this $200 million dollar operating budget, I know there has to be some waste somewhere because I once saw some public works employees standing around doing nothing. My plan is simple. The Town Council should cut all the services I don't use and increase funding for the ones I do.
Even better, public employee union leaders should be kidnapped and replaced with lookalikes who will agree to benefits concessions, magically reducing taxes without any consequences. Oh, and let's go three months into the fiscal year without a budget. What could possibly go wrong?
Thanks for the sarcasm!
shoreliner

Guilford, CT

#5 Jun 27, 2008
In familiarizing myself with the West Hartford budget, I was stunned to learn about the high amount of paid time off - vacations et al.- available to town employees.

Sharp reductions in vacation time should be implemented immediately and the town employee levels adjusted accordingly.
Dancing Queen

AOL

#6 Jun 27, 2008
Whenever a school budget is too high, people should investigate the administrative salaries; expense reports, too many secretarial positions doing the work of the admins. and whether or not the business manager is getting the best deal for supplies.

Example; why buy a box of pencils from a stationary store for 3 bucks when they can be purchased from the DOLLAR store.

DO A PUBLIC AUDIT INDEPENDENT OF THEIR AUDITORS!!

It's not that people are stealing, but when you are not accountable for profit, you just think you can keep going back to the public for money.

They need a COST ACCOUNTANT running the place.

GOVT. WASTE!
Bill Generous

Freeport, ME

#7 Jun 27, 2008
A $3.5 million spending reduction translates to a $3.5 million reduction in property taxes needed to fund the budget. Nevertheless, it is translated to a figure of $12 a month by some as tax savings to minimize the connection between spending and taxes.

The median adopted spending increase of referendum towns (there are 85 this year with 82 of them having binding referendums) is 3.8%, down from 5% and 5.3% the prior two years. The latest budget adopted by the West Hartford Town Council would require effective "tax rate" increases of 6.0% for residential real estate, 5.0% for homes and motor vehicles combined and 3.5% when considering all property taxpayers. 3.5% is a bit larger than the median effective tax rate change of 3.0% for all CT towns that have adopted their budgets.(Note: The actual increase in property taxes is greater than the tax rate increase since new construction and new property adds to the tax base. The effective tax rate increase accounts for both the mill rate change and revaluation appreciation.)
Barry

Pawling, NY

#8 Jun 27, 2008
Here we go again. I am all for trimming fat... but wasting money on another referendum? Just so that some WHTA egos can be stroked? Are we back to stretching the truth and misinformation like last year? Theresa McGrath blew the WHTA's credibility with me last year and the current powers to be have done nothing to reinstate it. You asked for cuts and you got them. You want to after the unions.. well, good luck. How much is that going to cost us in strikes? In lawsuits? Get your heads out of your collective rears and take a look around.
WH resident

AOL

#9 Jun 27, 2008
Businesses are always focused on the bottom line. The major insurance company I work for has expense reduction as their number one priority according to our leadership. We order our supplies from Staples and get better prices. We oursourced the grounds care (no need to provide health/retirement benefits.. the list goes on and on). Why not ask the experts such as local large business leadership how they cut expenses? Isn't anyone on the town council employed by a large company?

Also, we go through this every year. Why not change the town charter so increases can't be more than a certain percent that's tied to some kind of published economic indicator (such as rate of inflation)? Then there'd be less of this back and forth. We'd save time and money (no multiple budget revisions taking up employee time, no multiple elections costing the town money for each one...). There has to be a better way to get a budget approved each year.
curious

West Hartford, CT

#10 Jun 27, 2008
Bill Generous wrote:
A $3.5 million spending reduction translates to a $3.5 million reduction in property taxes needed to fund the budget. Nevertheless, it is translated to a figure of $12 a month by some as tax savings to minimize the connection between spending and taxes.
The median adopted spending increase of referendum towns (there are 85 this year with 82 of them having binding referendums) is 3.8%, down from 5% and 5.3% the prior two years. The latest budget adopted by the West Hartford Town Council would require effective "tax rate" increases of 6.0% for residential real estate, 5.0% for homes and motor vehicles combined and 3.5% when considering all property taxpayers. 3.5% is a bit larger than the median effective tax rate change of 3.0% for all CT towns that have adopted their budgets.(Note: The actual increase in property taxes is greater than the tax rate increase since new construction and new property adds to the tax base. The effective tax rate increase accounts for both the mill rate change and revaluation appreciation.)
What's the average spending increase for municipalities this year, including results of referendums? And the average tax rate increase?

Surely well below 5.5%.

What is WH's problem? I don't believe the COST of maintaining our services went up at a higher percentage than that of other towns. Assuming we don't ADD new programs this budget year, why can't we keep our spending and taxes more in line with the percentage increases that other towns passed?

I'm not suggesting eliminating services at all. I'm suggesting there are very costly non-program items in our town's budget that don't belong there.
WH resident

AOL

#11 Jun 27, 2008
Barry wrote:
Here we go again. I am all for trimming fat... but wasting money on another referendum? Just so that some WHTA egos can be stroked? Are we back to stretching the truth and misinformation like last year? Theresa McGrath blew the WHTA's credibility with me last year and the current powers to be have done nothing to reinstate it. You asked for cuts and you got them. You want to after the unions.. well, good luck. How much is that going to cost us in strikes? In lawsuits? Get your heads out of your collective rears and take a look around.
If you can't cut the benefits/salaries of union employees then the only other solution is staff reductions. The bottom line is that we need to reduce the expenses.
WH resident

AOL

#12 Jun 27, 2008
Eliminating leaf pickup makes sense to me from an environmental perspective. We haven't used it in years. We have a mulching lawn mower and put the rest in our compost pile.
WH resident

AOL

#13 Jun 27, 2008
Barry wrote:
Here we go again. I am all for trimming fat... but wasting money on another referendum? Just so that some WHTA egos can be stroked? Are we back to stretching the truth and misinformation like last year? Theresa McGrath blew the WHTA's credibility with me last year and the current powers to be have done nothing to reinstate it. You asked for cuts and you got them. You want to after the unions.. well, good luck. How much is that going to cost us in strikes? In lawsuits? Get your heads out of your collective rears and take a look around.
And, who is at fault? Clearly the town council, board of ed and town leadership for not making enough sensible cuts to get our expense increases in line with other towns and industry. While you may or may not approve of the WHTA, it's not their fault the budget is still unacceptable.
Yankee Doodle

Rocky Hill, CT

#14 Jun 27, 2008
The Town must freeze all new hires. No replacements and Hold firm until the next round of contracts. How much collective treasure has Dr Dunn taken from the town in his never ending employment here. Of course, why would you leave, Superintendants lackey pays sooooo well.
Leaf collection at 385k seems pretty small stuff for these titans of government. Maybe I should pay only 90% of my Property Taxes, hold it in escrow, until they learn how to handle my money better.
curious

West Hartford, CT

#15 Jun 27, 2008
Yankee Doodle wrote:
The Town must freeze all new hires. No replacements and Hold firm until the next round of contracts. How much collective treasure has Dr Dunn taken from the town in his never ending employment here. Of course, why would you leave, Superintendants lackey pays sooooo well.
Leaf collection at 385k seems pretty small stuff for these titans of government. Maybe I should pay only 90% of my Property Taxes, hold it in escrow, until they learn how to handle my money better.
I agree with the idea of paying 90% of the taxes. Problem is the mortgage company won't allow that for too long. What then?
Bill Generous

Freeport, ME

#16 Jun 27, 2008
curious wrote:
<quoted text>
What's the average spending increase for municipalities this year, including results of referendums? And the average tax rate increase?
The average effective tax rate increase of all CT towns with adopted budgets (most of the towns) is 3.1%, which is about the same as the median tax rate increase of 3.0%. The average spending increase of referendum towns is 3.9%(again, similar figure as the median of 3.8%). I don't have a figure for spending increases on all CT towns, but in recent years the total spending increases of referendum towns has been the same as the total spending increase of all 169 CT towns.

West Hartford might be having more difficulty limiting their spending increase this year than other towns because last year West Hartford limited their spending increase more than other towns did.
Judy Aron Part1

Middle Haddam, CT

#17 Jun 27, 2008
Another referendum just might send a stronger message to our Town Council that people are really struggling.

They have had enough, and we feel that the token cuts that were made were a slap in the face to the 7,037 citizens that came out and voted down a 7% budget increase, especially since the cuts were not made where they should have been made. We ended up with what amounts to a 6% tax increase for a median residential home instead. Big deal.

Did you see any reductions in non-union bonuses and vacation paybacks? Did you see any cuts in meal allowances, travel, advertising, and conferences? Did you see any salary freezes? Did you see any changes in vacation buybacks? Did you see any changes in policy and how the town does business, that would have saved us any money? No. Did you know that the Board of Education was prepared to give back 3 million instead of just $1.4 million?

Mr. Francis should have gone back to his reports and asked all of them to deliver a budget that was no more than a 3 or 4% increase. We feel they could have done a lot better than what they did. Elimination of leaf collection was easy and something they have wanted an excuse to do for a long time. Its elimination was in fact a tax increase, or rather an added expense and burden to many, especially our seniors. We would have liked to see them do something to improve its operation rather then get rid of it all together.

We are sorry, but now is not the time to protect jobs in our town while many people are forced to sell their homes. Some of these town employees would do better to help us out and take a little less and that might even allow them to keep their jobs. This town administration has done a horrible job of negotiating contracts and we are all suffering because of it. The fact of the matter is that we cannot continue spending the way we have and what we are looking at now is NOT merely a $33 or $45 a month increase but a cumulative effect to the tune of $650+ A MONTH in taxes. And what will it be next year and the year after that?

What we find most disingenuous is when our Mayor scolds a council member for suggesting to put in a line item in the budget that anticipates a concession from union employees and calls it irresponsible and cause for a possible deficit, when this is what is done all the time when the Mayor puts in the budget money anticipated from the State that never shows up! Tell me this Mayor did not do the same thing and now was caught with a $615,000 deficit in PILOT payments! and then he has the audacity to criticize Visconti for doing the very same thing!! Shame on him.

Yes, you may be left with larger class sizes - so maybe we shouldn't be taking in 91 kids from out of town. As far as less services from town - well that is what your Town Council delivered to you because they don't have the courage to cut from their friends in administration. You want to explain to me why Town employees don't punch a time clock and therefore do not have their time accounted for? You want to tell me why we should pay more in taxes because we can't have volunteers water the planters in town and save money because "it's against union rules"? You want to tell me why we are paying to put in brick pavers on walkways that are seldom used? Have you looked at the black book of credit card expenses?

There is waste in this budget. We'd prefer to see that eliminated instead of leaf collection. The sad part of this is that because of the refusal to do any kind of meaningful management audit this kind of waste continues.

That is why we are doing a second referendum.
Judy Aron Part2

Middle Haddam, CT

#18 Jun 27, 2008
As for money not coming to us that is due us from the state - we lay that completely at the feet of the majority party locally, and in Hartford, who has done NOTHING to change that. Has the Mayor and his cohorts organized a mass grassroots effort for our town to lobby anyone up at the Capitol? No he'd rather spend $40,000 for CCM to do that for us - and very ineffectively we might add.

We have the Chair of the Education committee representing us for heavens sake, and he has done very little to help us get more of our ECS funding - in fact he worked against efforts by Rep. Farr a few years back to get us more funding. So now the chickens have come home to roost and until the people of West Hartford wake up and realize that nothing is going to change until we make some changes in the people representing us, we will continue to get the same hand we have already been dealt.

People are losing their homes !! and as far as we are concerned, if a few more kids in a classroom will keep them from moving out then so be it.
You may not agree with the WHTA, and that is your prerogative, but 7,037 people in town did, and we are listening to what they are saying and we will not be cowed by cuts meant intentionally to harm residents and coerce them into accepting yet another mis-prioritized and over inflated budget.

We will tell you another thing, there were plenty of young families that came out and voted NO. We will also tell you that 3711 voted YES even with 5544 Democrats coming out to vote (roughty 30% of the voters in this referendum were registered Democrats) so even if everyone who voted YES was a Democrat supporting their party, that leaves 1833 Democrats who voted NO along with 2567 Republicans and 2587 Unaffiliateds. The desire for lower taxes and more accountability and transparency in government apparently transcends party lines.

What is it we are seeking? Responsible spending. Honest budgeting. How about looking past this year and stopping a trend in spending that will be even more problematic in a few years? You think we have problems now? Just wait.
my friends

AOL

#19 Jun 27, 2008
This back and forth really is getting old.
The Town of West Hartford is and will be a great place to live, period.
Unfortunately for 2 years now (large tax increases & reval during economic down turn) many residents have been exposed to the reality of how our local Gov't and schools are being run (managed) and they don't like it.
Average joe taxpayer expects the elected to react and make necessary changes just as he has to do.
The fact is they (the Mayor and his boys) just don't have what it takes and ignore the people to protect an entrenched staff (mostly administrative) both municipal and school.
Remember it's their arrogance to have passed a 6.9%(maintenance) budget increase in April, knowing it wouldn't pass & then making cuts (minimal) mostly to resident services and perhaps a very modest (if at all) class size increase, forcing the people to say no again.
Can they be any more out of touch?
Judy Aron Part1

Middle Haddam, CT

#20 Jun 27, 2008
Another referendum just might send a stronger message to our Town Council that people are really struggling. They have had enough, and we feel that the token cuts that were made were a slap in the face to the 7,037 citizens that came out and voted down a 7% budget increase, especially since the cuts were not made where they should have been made. We ended up with what amounts to a 6% tax increase for a median residential home instead. Big deal.

Did you see any reductions in non-union bonuses and vacation paybacks? Did you see any cuts in meal allowances, travel, advertising, and conferences? Did you see any salary freezes? Did you see any changes in vacation buybacks? Did you see any changes in policy and how the town does business, that would have saved us any money? No. Did you know that the Board of Education was prepared to give back 3 million instead of just $1.4 million?

Mr. Francis should have gone back to his reports and asked all of them to deliver a budget that was no more than a 3 or 4% increase. We feel they could have done a lot better than what they did. Elimination of leaf collection was easy and something they have wanted an excuse to do for a long time. Its elimination was in fact a tax increase, or rather an added expense and burden to many, especially our seniors. We would have liked to see them do something to improve its operation rather then get rid of it all together.

We are sorry, but now is not the time to protect jobs in our town while many people are forced to sell their homes. Some of these town employees would do better to help us out and take a little less and that might even allow them to keep their jobs. This town administration has done a horrible job of negotiating contracts and we are all suffering because of it.

The fact of the matter is that we cannot continue spending the way we have and what we are looking at now is NOT merely a $33 or $45 a month increase but a cumulative effect to the tune of $650+ A MONTH in taxes. And what will it be next year and the year after that?

What we find most disingenuous is when our Mayor scolds a council member for suggesting to put in a line item in the budget that anticipates a concession from union employees and calls it irresponsible and cause for a possible deficit, when this is what is done all the time when the Mayor puts in the budget money anticipated from the State that never shows up! Tell me this Mayor did not do the same thing and now was caught with a $615,000 deficit in PILOT payments! and then he has the audacity to criticize Visconti for doing the very same thing!! Shame on him.

Yes, you may be left with larger class sizes - so maybe we shouldn't be taking in 91 kids from out of town. As far as less services from town - well that is what your Town Council delivered to you because they don't have the courage to cut from their friends in administration. You want to explain to me why Town employees don't punch a time clock and therefore do not have their time accounted for? You want to tell me why we should pay more in taxes because we can't have volunteers water the planters in town and save money because "it's against union rules"? You want to tell me why we are paying to put in brick pavers on walkways that are seldom used? Have you looked at the black book of credit card expenses?

There is waste in this budget. We'd prefer to see that eliminated instead of leaf collection. The sad part of this is that because of the refusal to do any kind of meaningful management audit this kind of waste continues.

That is why we are doing a second referendum.

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