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Archive for September, 2008

Second West Hartford Budget Referendum One Week from Today

Posted by whforums on September 30, 2008

I hereby call to order an online Town Meeting.

One week from today, about 12,000 of us (if we’re lucky) will go to the polls and fill in the circle for “No” or “Yes.” We’ve heard from the folks at West Hartford FIRST and the WHTA, so now it’s your turn:

How do you intend to vote on the West Hartford budget referendum next Tuesday, October 7th (“No,” “Yes,” or “Undecided”), and why?

You get 5 minutes with your text box, max. And while established voices are essential, I’d love to hear from some new voices, too.

Posted in Budget, budget cuts, Local Democracy, Referendum, Taxes, West Hartford | Tagged: , , | 24 Comments »

Guest Post: WHTA

Posted by whforums on September 26, 2008

Ten days ago, I invited both the WHTA and West Hartford FIRST to compose a guest post for this blog that would answer the following question: Why should we vote Yes/No on October 7th? My hope was to hold the two arguments against one another so we could have a reasonable discussion about the merits of both. The post from the folks at West Hartford FIRST can be found here. What follows is the response from West Hartford Taxpayers Association. It arrived to me as a press release dated Wednesday, September 24th.

We wish to make something very clear to all West Hartford residents: The West Hartford Taxpayers Association is not advocating for the closure of any fire station, or the increase of class sizes, or the elimination of leaf collection. Those decisions are wholly the responsibility of the Town Council and Board of Education. How they decide to divide up budget dollars has nothing to do with the West Hartford Taxpayers Association. Our position regarding the budget is, and always has been, to advocate for responsible spending, transparent government and to insure that town residents are being taxed fairly and in line with cost of living increases and inflation. We believe that Town government can be operated efficiently to provide needed services at a fair cost to the Citizens of West Hartford. We are being unjustly characterized as being anti-education, and now anti-public safety for political purposes to scare the public into voting “YES” on October 7. It is very disturbing that town leaders and union representatives are using every means possible to create an emotional response to how people vote in this next referendum.

Quite frankly, we find it unacceptable to close a fire house just to save a mere $25,000. This is a terrible disservice to our town and we believe it is being used as a political scare tactic meant to villify our organization. Residents should be aware that no fire station will be closed as a result of a “NO” vote. The fire station on Prospect Street has been eyed for a very long time for possible closure, and that possibility was going to be studied anyway. Whether you vote “YES” or vote “NO” that possible fire station closure will still be looked at. We were told this by past Town Manager Jim Francis last year.

Very simply, we are advocating for residents to vote “NO” on this current budget on October 7th because a 5.5% + increase in our taxes from last years tax bill is simply too high of an increase in these difficult economic times. We are all tightening our belts and we expect our government to do the same. We feel that Town management should be committed to finding efficiencies and savings in many areas of the budget without sacrificing entire programs or needed services. They even had a million dollar surplus in their operating budget, which we understand has already now been spent. We have been advocating for a due diligence/best practices audit to be conducted by a citizens committee at no expense to the taxpayer, to investigate where there may be waste and possible areas of savings, but this has been voted down by our elected officials. We wonder why they are refusing to co-operate and allow citizens to take a good look at the town check book, and how town credit cards are being used along with other policies and practices. We feel that citizen participation is crucial to open government and is the founding principal of true democracy.

The heart of the problem that West Hartford is facing has to do with employee compensation, namely pensions and benefits. The changes that were made to the last version of the budget were mostly one-time adjustments which reduced operating expenses or increased non-tax revenue but they didn’t address the underlying and ongoing problem. The reductions that were made also did not do anything to lower our taxes in any meaningful way. Residents must understand that we are facing an issue of sustainibility. We have employee fringe benefit costs that are rising at 2.5 times the rate of inflation! Hence, the risks to the town remain the same and the analysis conclusions are unchanged. If we continue along this line of spending our taxes will rise 42% by the end of 4 years! Future fiscal solvency and sustainability are facing our town and other towns.

We are also facing issues of misplaced priorities. We wonder why it is that the Town is spending millions of dollars on granite curbed medians with tree plantings when our swimming pools are crumbling. We wonder why important infrastructure like road repairs and heating systems in Town buildings are being shoved aside while we spend money on astroturf and flower planters. We wonder why programs are cut from our children’s classrooms and instead the dollars go to administrative pay increases. There is clearly a culture of tax and spend that needs to be addressed in our town and that is why we want to bring this to the public’s attention. We think that our elected officials and the people they hire to manage departments can do a better job. That is all that we are asking them to do.

Finally, we applaud the West Hartford Fire Department, and the Police Department as well, for the splendid job they do to protect us all. Consider that the WHFD may have been underfunded because of the money wasted on pretty granite medians or brick pavers in places where pedestrians rarely walk. We think it is a gross disservice to use our first responders as a weapon to stop you from demanding responsible spending in government. It is even a further insult to lay the blame of misplaced spending priorities of our Town government at the feet of the West Hartford Taxpayers Association who have absolutely no say in how the budget is allocated. Think about that when you enter the voting booth on October 7.

Posted in Budget, Guest Post, Local Democracy, West Hartford | Tagged: , , | 11 Comments »

Guest Post: Mary Fleischli of West Hartford FIRST

Posted by whforums on September 25, 2008

Nine days ago, I invited both the WHTA and West Hartford FIRST to compose a guest post for this blog that would answer the following question: Why should we vote Yes/No on October 7th? My hope was to hold the two arguments against one another so we could have a reasonable discussion about the merits of both. The post from the folks at the WHTA can be found here. What follows is the response from West Hartford FIRST. Please note that, despite the “Paid for” tagline, I accepted no money to publish this post.

Why should I vote YES on October 7th? Top 10 reasons:

1. While the current economy may be causing us to reexamine our budgets, the Town Budget has already been cut once back in June. While I expect my elected officials to be fiscally responsible, I don’t expect them to cut a second time at the expense of my home value and my quality of life.

2. While I don’t like paying more in taxes, I don’t mind paying my local taxes the way I do my federal and state taxes. I see the benefits I receive from my local taxes – in the schools, in the town services, and in the safety of my neighborhood.

3. I don’t believe the unsubstantiated allegations that there is “fat” in the budget. If there were, why didn’t any of the Town Council members who voted against the budget suggest something specific to cut? The answer is there was nothing to cut that wasn’t a valuable town service.

4. I care about fire safety. The Town Council has proposed closing the fire station on Prospect Avenue. This could affect response times for fires and car accidents. I think keeping a fire station open is worth the $1 per household per year that we save in taxes by closing it.

5. I want a strong police force – I don’t want the crime rate to increase. I keep reading about burglaries in West Hartford and fear with the economy there will be more. The police department’s training budget and overtime for traffic calming were cut in the last round. I don’t want them to cut police positions next time around.

6. I care about education – I am upset that due to budget cuts, there are 28 kids in the 4th grade classes at Duffy and the 5th grade classes at Braeburn. If your school hasn’t been affected yet, you are lucky – for now.

7. In these uncertain times for real estate, a strong school system is the best protection I have against falling home prices. My home is my biggest investment and I want to protect it.

8. I value the library and other town services and don’t like that their hours have already been cut. First they cut library hours – the next cut could mean closing a library branch.

9. I am proud to live in West Hartford, rated one of the top 100 towns in Money Magazine. How long will our town continue to be nationally recognized if we continue to cut away at services?

10. A $1 million cut in the budget would translate into just $3.38 in monthly tax savings on a median value home. Making cuts large enough to have a meaningful impact on taxes are severely affecting all aspects of our quality of life in West Hartford – police, fire, schools & services…

Compiled by Mary Fleischli, president of West Hartford FIRST
Paid for by West Hartford FIRST, Chris Mozonski, treasurer
For more information, go to www.whfirst.org

Posted in Budget, Guest Post, Local Democracy, West Hartford | Tagged: , , | 18 Comments »

Closing Firehouse Number One

Posted by whforums on September 23, 2008

Please select the answer that best completes the following sentence.

The potential closing of firehouse number one is:

A). A cheap get-out-the-vote tactic.

B) A reasonable way to create savings for the town without greatly impacting town services.

C) Going to negatively impact response time to the crises of our neighbors (and perhaps ourselves).

D) A short term solution to a long term problem.

E) Pumping more hot air into the self-righteousness of those who resent contributing to the common good.

Posted in budget cuts, Local Democracy, Taxes, West Hartford | Tagged: , , | 5 Comments »

Renewable Energy, Renewable Larson/Visconti, Renewable Town Council Meeting

Posted by whforums on September 23, 2008

3 quick hits for your Tuesday morning.

1. West Hartford rocks at using renewable energy. According to this article in Saturday’s Courant, West Hartford the leading consumer of renewable energy — no small task in a ‘burg the size of ours. Now, I’m not much of a person to celebrate consumption (it really irks me when I’m told I’m a consumer, not a citizen), but if we’re consuming energy that has long range “less negative” effects, so much the better. In the program, communities with the highest rates of participation (and West Hartford has nearly 1000 households enrolled — which is great, and also pretty crappy) are given solar panels, and our solar panels are going on top of Town Hall, Hall High and Conard. The panels at Hall and Conard will also be used in Environmental Science classes — which I’m sure will be the source of ire for some in the town who believe all the students need in the science classroom are a notebook, a dead frog and some pins …

2. I’m tempted to say the race for US Rep between John Larson and Joe Visconti is heating up, except the Bristol Press remains the only place where the race actually seems to be covered (though props to Rick Green for doing what he can). They have an article on the race for the 1st district here, and it of course features the two candidates using words like “reformer” “Main Street” and “finger-pointing.” Meanwhile, last we checked, Stephen Fournier is still running for the same seat, albeit without the cloak of buzzwords (or any media buzz, apparently — though last I heard anything about this fracking election, he had raised as much as Visconti).

3. Town Council meeting tonight. I’d link you to the agenda, but the town website is down as I type this. I’m working Tuesday nights at the moment (yes, that’s consumption getting in the way of citizenship) and can only get to Council/BOE meetings via my TIVo. I’m interested in farming out a Wednesday “Meeting Recap Post” to anyone who’s interested and who thinks they can provide the community with an objective recap/highlights of what occurred. Email to whforums@gmail.com

Posted in 2008 Election, Federal Government, Local Democracy, Quick Hits, West Hartford, West Hartford Town Council | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

The Existential Crisis of a Blog

Posted by whforums on September 19, 2008

As my comment here displays, I suppose, I’m in a bit of a dreary, tired, burnt-out mood.

Here’s a question to make me drearier.

Based on the supposed purpose of this blog, and based on the content of the blog to this point and the general issues surrounding our town and its governance, what two search terms do you suppose most often bring people into West Hartford Forums?

The answer after the jump.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

Elmwood Pwnage — It’s the Road to the Wii Final Four!

Posted by whforums on September 17, 2008

Last week I told you that the Elmwood Senior Center was battling several other senior centers in the regional finals of a statewide Wii Bowling Tournament (which, it turns out, is named the HealthNet Cup … one has to wonder if the winner gets said cup).

Well, I received this in my inbox yesterday:  “Elmwood did wind up ‘pwning’ the competition, winning the event and advancing to the state regional (which will take place in October).”  Complete regional Senior Center pwnage by one of our own Senior Centers.  The other Senior Center traveled to Newington for a tournament … no word yet on how that one turned out (can anyone report?).

Check out the bracket here (just click to zoom in — and no, I have no idea what it’s doing on Marist’s servers) —  the road to the final four looks daunting, but by advancing to the State Regionals, Elmwood has already solidified itself as one of the top 22 teams in the state (in other words, if the fracking Wii Sports game had an online component, you wouldn’t want to see this crew line up against you and your friends).

More pwnage!  More happy, happy pwnage!

Posted in Elmwood, Pwnage, Quick Hits, West Hartford | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

… Build the Superintendent

Posted by whforums on September 14, 2008

In direct contrast to my occupation of the prior post, I’ll try to empty myself from this post and hope you’ll fill it each by each.

The town has released the following schedule for public forums that will receive “public input regarding what we as a community seek in our new educational leader.” (Link — it’s a .pdf).

Public Forums for West Hartford Superintendent Search
Wednesday, 9/17, Commons Area at KP (7 p.m.)
Thursday, 9/18, auditorium of the Elmwood Community Center (10 a.m.)
Tuesday, 9/23, aduitorium of Conard High School (7 p.m.)

So — let’s brainstorm.  What do we expect of our new superintendent?  What are the greatest challenges we face, and how should we deal with them?  What are the traits/skills we need in our new educational leader?

And if you think you’ve written something sorta good here, you can post it where it counts — in the virutal forum for the Superintendent Search at whps.org.

Posted in Local Democracy, West Hartford, WHPS | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

If You Don’t Like the Teachers …

Posted by whforums on September 14, 2008

The education news is flying fast and furious.

First, Barbara Carpenter resigned as head of the West Hartford Teacher’s Union.  Rick Green has an interesting article about the situation.  My concern with his take is that it implicitly maligns teachers as lazy and unwilling to compromise (it treats teachers as a monolith seemingly only because they bargain collectively), which is most certainly untrue.  In fact, I’d suspect that most West Hartford teachers would like to be greater stakeholders in the direction of their school system, and I think, given the right compensation, many teachers would be willing to work a wide variety of schedules.  But to imagine that teachers would work off hours without extra compensatoin  compensation is to be guilty of the kind of thinking that too often seeps into lay conversations about education:  “Teachers aren’t professionals — anybody could do it.”

Meanwhile, Talk of West Hartford has returned with a post that harshly challenges the quality of West Hartford schools at the curricular level, arguing that our shortcomings are rooted in “educational credentials” and that we should “be doing a full examination of what our kids are being taught and how.”  While the post is careful to explictly challenge only administrators and those in charge of curriculum, as in Rick Green’s article, it implicitly maligns (especially through that word “how”) the teachers delivering the instruction.  When the author asks the question “Are they being taught in the most efficient and effective manner?,” the implication is the same old same old — teachers don’t know what they’re doing, and “educational credentials” (like degrees in education and progressing certifications) don’t mean a thing.

I’m not saying all teachers are wonderful.  Like any other job, I’m sure there are some employees who are burnt out, uninterested or focused only on their paycheck. But most of the teachers I know (and I’m surrounded by teachers in my life, so I’m perhaps a bit over-sensitive here) care more about their students than their schedules — and most don’t complain that their compensation, generally speaking, lags behind other professionals with comparable educational backgrounds.  And this constant implicit disrespect doesn’t even touch on the day to day disrespect teachers receive from their students (and the parents of those students).

I fear that the forthcoming contract negotiatons could turn really ugly, and once again pit (at least) two very different West Hartfords against one another.  In this case — as with the referendum we’re staring down — we may be so blinded by our own sense of our town’s identity that we can’t see that, despite our various perspectives, we share our common ground …

Posted in Pet Peeves, West Hartford, WHPS | Tagged: , | 18 Comments »

Coolest. Thing. Ever.

Posted by whforums on September 9, 2008

Many people on the web have waxed eloquent about Wii Bowling. For example, over at the Hostess with the Mostess blog, they have a great post about a Wii bowling party complete with Margamiitas and Mowiitos (tell me you wish you weren’t at that party — and all for charity, no less!). Others, such as the folks at Comics Worth Reading, see Wii Bowling as more Zen experience than party.

Whether you’re into Wii Bowling for its good times or its meaning of life import, this Wednesday at 1 p.m., the “coolest. thing. ever” is going down at the Elmwood Senior Center. Our Elmwood Senior Center team will be battling teams from Hartford, Bloomfield and Windsor in the quarterfinals of the Statewide Wii Bowling Championship. You can read all about the state tournament via a press release from Health Net (Health Net provided the Senior Center with its Wii).

The Senior Center requests you call to reserve a seat in the auditorium if you want to check out the Wii Bowling action. I would totally be there, if not for work …

Windsor, Bloomfield and Hartford — prepare to be pwned!

Photo Credit

Posted in Elmwood, Something Playful For Once, West Hartford | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »