West Hartford Forums

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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

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18 Responses to “Guest Post: Mary Fleischli of West Hartford FIRST”

  1. Father of 3 said

    Mary thanks for your post but…

    1. Why not ask them a second time when they didn’t do enough the first time? Your statement that we shouldn’t ask a second time doesn’t hold up. If you believe they cut enough, that’s one thing.

    2. I too see value in paying my local taxes. I don’t ever see value in wasting money, whether it is $1 or $100,000. I believe that this referendum is about fiscal responsibility.

    3. Clearly the term “fat” is subjective. I *know* (as opposed to believe) that there is “fat” in the budget. Our opinions on what is “fat” differ.

    4. I too care about fire safety, but trust our Fire Chief who supports the closing of Fire House No 1. If we don’t trust that the Fire Chief is qualified to make those decisions, we should replace him/her.

    5. Good point, but “next time around” isn’t what we are voting on this time around.

    6. This is a concern – the parents (including me) should be telling the Board of Ed that they need to cut elsewhere.

    7. You are correct, but I believe that fiscal irresponsibility is doing more damage to our schools than these budget cuts.

    8. I value the library too – but does it need to stay open on a Friday night when there are almost no patrons? Would it make sense to have the library open 24 hours per day? No, so evaluating the usage of the library and reducing the hours (and yes, perhaps even closing a branch if it isn’t used enough) is wise.

    9. I don’t think anyone is advocating service cuts that will damage the long-term desirability to live in this town. However, we’ve been increasing our spending at an unsustainable rate. It has to stop before the tax rate destroys our town.

    10. Again, this isn’t about the $4 extra that I have to pay. If that was the case, I’d be happy to pay $20 more. However its about the constant increase in spending. Can someone post the change in the annual tax bill for a median house in West Hartford over the past 10 years compared to the annual inflation for the same period?

    Our local government spends OUR money. When they want to spend more money, they just take it from us. Unlike a business they don’t have to earn it, so the only control on the spending is the tax payers voting in a budget referendum. If there were some controls or incentives to keeping the budget number down, I’d be more likely to accept the increases that they’ve proposed.

    Our Town Manager should be paid his/her bonus based on their performance – which should be directly tied to controlling spending. No bonuses in years with a tax increase that exceeds inflation.

    Thanks again for a well thought out (even if I think you had to stretch to get 10 reasons) post.

  2. WHTaxpayer said

    Mary,
    I also want to thank you for a well-thought out, reasoned response. I only wish the WHTA had responded with a similarly helpful submission. However, I must take issue with your response as it misses the point regarding the Town and BOE budgets. Wages and benefits, not operating expense line items, are driving the continued increases in budgets and property taxes. Wages and benefits represent 83% of the BOE budget, according to Superintendent Sklarz and they represent 55% of the Town budget. Combined, wages and benefits make up 72% of the FY2008 budget. Overall wages are increasing at 5.0% per year and benefits are going up at over 12% per year. Unless and until these are addressed, half-measures like reducing library hours, eliminating leaf pick-up, closing fire-houses, raising user fees and selling off scarce town assets are band-aids which merely postpone the eventual need for a tourniquet to save the patient. In years past, one looked to the public sector for job security and generous benfits to compensate for wages that were lower than comparable positions in the private sector paid. Over time, through binding arbitration and fiscally irresponsible giveaways by municipal leaders, our public sector employees now enjoy higher wages than they would in the private sector while maintaining their historically generous fringe benfits.
    When most town senior employees make over $100,000 per year, enjoy lifetime post-retirement health care, get 7 weeks paid vacation with the ability to sell back 4 weeks, banked sick and vacation days that are cashed in at retirement and can take their $100,000 per year pensions to work in other towns or states, all paid for by the taxpayers of West Hartford, it is difficult to believe that there is no fat in the budget.
    When the fire department asserts that they “don’t overspend their budget, they just spend more than has been allocated” and makes the point that paying more overtime now is justified because each firefighter’s future pension and post-retirement benfits will cost the town $4 million to $5 million, it is ludicrous to assert that there is no fat in the budget.
    Budget referenda are the only means available to the taxpayers of West Hartford to express their dissatisfaction with a ballooning budget fed by lavish wages and benefits. To date, our elected officials have failed to take meaningful steps to address the wage and benefit issue. Recent statements and actions of both the firefighters and teachers unions clearly indicate that they are preparing to take a hard line to protect lavish, past gains. The upcoming referendum is our last opportunity to tell our elected officials we expect them to defend the taxpayers of West Hartford equally as forcefully.

  3. turtle said

    Kudos to Mary Fleischli and West Hartford First!

    Father of 3 says:

    I too see value in paying my local taxes. I don’t ever see value in wasting money, whether it is $1 or $100,000. I believe that this referendum is about fiscal responsibility.

    You’re suggesting supporters of the budget “see value in wasting money”. You’re suggesting that the Town Council/BoE isn’t concerned with fiscal responsibility. That’s simply ludicrous. By the way, could you cite some examples of fiscal recklessness on the part of the Town Council or BoE?

    Clearly the term “fat” is subjective. I *know* (as opposed to believe) that there is “fat” in the budget. Our opinions on what is “fat” differ.

    “Father of 3” “knows” there is fat in the budget. Who are you and how do you know?

    Good point, but “next time around” isn’t what we are voting on this time around.

    If the budget is voted down, further cuts could be made to the police or other departments. You’re being a bit disingenuous here.

    Again, this isn’t about the $4 extra that I have to pay. If that was the case, I’d be happy to pay $20 more. However its about the constant increase in spending. Can someone post the change in the annual tax bill for a median house in West Hartford over the past 10 years compared to the annual inflation for the same period?

    That would be interesting. Don’t forget to throw in reval!

    You are correct, but I believe that fiscal irresponsibility is doing more damage to our schools than these budget cuts.

    What fiscal irresponsibility, in particular, is responsible for what damage, in particular? Mary Fleischli mentioned how budget cuts have driven up class sizes, among other examples. Maybe you could likewise offer specifics.

    I don’t think anyone is advocating service cuts that will damage the long-term desirability to live in this town. However, we’ve been increasing our spending at an unsustainable rate. It has to stop before the tax rate destroys our town.

    What are you advocating, then? I think the citizens of this town are open to debating proposed cuts, but they must first be proposed.

    Our local government spends OUR money. When they want to spend more money, they just take it from us. Unlike a business they don’t have to earn it, so the only control on the spending is the tax payers voting in a budget referendum. If there were some controls or incentives to keeping the budget number down, I’d be more likely to accept the increases that they’ve proposed.

    Government isn’t a business, and hostility to government, taxes, and the public sector has already had profound consequences for our country. (Look around you!) Paying taxes is the price for living in a republic. Meanwhile, no one is contesting the budget referendum process–that is a strawman. What “controls or incentives” specifically would you suggest be implemented to control budget costs? (You forgot a pretty powerful one–politics. If Town Councilors and BoE members are unresponsive to residents they get booted out of office.)

    Our Town Manager should be paid his/her bonus based on their performance – which should be directly tied to controlling spending. No bonuses in years with a tax increase that exceeds inflation.

    Many costs associated with the budget are beyond the Town Manager’s control. Again, which town services or personnel would you be willing to sacrifice to reduce the budget?

    In short, your argument consists of trusting that you, an anonymous person on the internet, “knows” there is fat in the budget and accepting your accusation that the town government is “fiscally irresponsible” with no evidence or specifics whatsoever.

  4. Cynic said

    One example of Council irresposibility, how about the annual underfunding of the Fire Dept. According to the West Hartford News this has been going on for years with the overage being covered by surpluses in the budget. The Town Manager and Council apparently did this annually.

    The BOE is advocating a DIP for $300K. It is a year and a half since it was decided something needed to be done. Those who had problems in March 2007 will not be helped. The BOE should be getting Tom Moore out there replicating what he did at Conard throughout the Town. Cost to the taxpayers, little if anything.

    What other fictions are there in the budget. We won’t know where the waste is until the Town finally decides to do a management audit.

    If we are asked to pay taxes, we have a right to honest and clear reporting and budgeting.

    In the end it appears that we may very well be at a time where the Council and BOE have no choice but to exam all budget items including salaries, pensions and other benies. The Fed are out of money, the State is out of money, The Town is out of money and so are the Taxpayers.

  5. Mary Fleischli said

    To hear why your neighbors are voting for the budget, please watch this video on You Tube:

  6. turtle said

    According to the West Hartford News…

    I missed this story and haven’t been able to find the article. Link?

    It is a year and a half since it was decided something needed to be done.

    The DIP was drafted in about 4 months last winter and had to undergo a town and state approval process. Do you really think it was only a year and a half ago that “it was decided something needed to be done”? And why do you insinuate that the administration is anything but overjoyed by Tom Moore’s success at Conard? This is sheer biased speculation on your part and has nothing to do with the reality of the district’s efforts to close the achievement gap.

    The Fed are out of money, the State is out of money, The Town is out of money and so are the Taxpayers.

    Well, well, I wonder why.

  7. Father of 3 said

    Turtle – No, I’m not suggesting that supporters of the budget “see value in wasting money” (although I see how you could interpret it that way – I’m not a professional writer!). I do suggest that we have differing opinions of what “fat” is. In my case, I believe that the payroll (vacation buy-back policy, pension, etc) of the town administrators is bloated. To me this is “fat”. How much fat is there in the budget? I don’t know, could I be wrong? Absolutely, but at this point the majority on the Town Council isn’t interested in an independent audit to convince those of us who are questioning the entire budget. (Here’s a post on this topic).

    I’m just a father of 3 young children who owns a small struggling business.

    I’m not hostile to paying taxes, read what I said, I don’t believe that there is any cost control on institutions that spend other people’s money. Yes, the Town Councilors and BoE members don’t get re-elected if the voters aren’t happy, but how do we hold the Town Manager responsible for granting raises too easily? Or a middle-manager? As has been stated numerous times, the payroll costs associated with our town are growing out of step with the economy.

    As for my Town Manager bonus suggestion – I’m highly aware that it was too simplistic.. I think you missed the point. Simply that the persons responsible for the budget (I’d extend this simplistic idea to the School Superintendent too) need to have *more* of a stake in controlling costs.

    Your are right, I’ll back of “knowing” that there is fat in the budget – although there have been several suggestions in other posts that merit further scrutiny.

  8. henry said

    That YouTube video is so lame and insulting. Lots of rich white people (including Christine Mozonski, the WHFIRST organization’s treasurer) saying they don’t mind paying more taxes. How about poor lower income minorities who have bought homes here who cannot pay these continual tax increases? I suppose you just want them to move out of town too!

    On top of that they are lying! A NO vote does not mean a fire house will be closed. The only reason the WHFD union is pushing for a YES vote is to protect their benefits. I guess they make enough money to afford higher taxes and I wonder how many actually live in West Hartford. That goes for the Teachers Union as well.
    Public employees may do a great job, but their pay and benefit packages are unheard of in the private sector.

    Just more of the usual fear tactics.

  9. whforums said

    Excuse me … did you just say that a teacher’s pay+benefits is “unheard of” in the private sector?

    I guess I’ll let that speak for itself.

    You know, the reason I sought these two posts was because I’m an undecided voter, and because I believe a lot of West Hartford is both undecided and seeking more information. But the more “No” voters open their mouths (here and across our local blogosphere) , the more I’m thinking I have to vote “Yes.” If “No” really believes teachers are overpaid, and if “No” really believes AP classes (
    see 9/27 at 3:11
    ) should come at a charge to students, I can’t imagine why on earth I would vote “No.”

    You know, I really respect the folks running WH FIRST and the WHTA. Unfortunately, it’s neither of their arguments that are swaying me. It’s the comments of those who represent their positions that are swaying me, and they’re swaying me to vote against a position (“No”) more than they’re swaying me to vote for a position. Our local democracy, like our national democracy, reduced to the lowest common denominator …

  10. Cynic said

    WHForums,

    If you think about it, what is wrong with a charge for AP courses.

    Kids can qualify for college with Honors courses, they don’t have to take AP courses.

    The potential financial savings to a family whos’ child piles up AP courses is very large and very real. Kids have entered college with enough credits to eliminate a full year of college, that is a savings of anywhere from $20K to $55K.

    UConn charges for its’ Early College Experience program, which generates a UConn transcript for High School students.

    The College Board charges for the AP tests.

    So why not place a charge on AP Courses. (At this time, I believe the State doesn’t allow it, but that is another question.) And the system seems to always offer financial aid to those that need it, so no one would be left out.

    So is it worth it pay a fee of $100-$200/course for a program that can save you big bucks. I’m willing to pay it.

  11. Cynic said

    BTW, I just looked at the time listed on my post.
    Check your system clock, it looks like it is off by an hour.

  12. Kevin Walsh said

    If you do think about it Cynic, there is PLENTY wrong with charging for AP courses. (Does any town do so?)

    How could the town possibly justify a charge for AP courses, but not for shop courses? Or fine arts courses?

    I am not aware that it costs the town more to teach a student AP history or AP mathematics than it costs to teach that student regular track history or mathematics – I understand that teachers salaries are determined by seniority and education level (i.e., whether the teacher holds a Masters’ degree, etc.), and not by course assignment. If the town pays the same amount to teach my kid algebra as it pays to teach your kid AP calculus, why should you be expected to pony up an extra fee that I don’t have to pay?

    Meanwhile, what about students from low-income families who have demonstrated ability and motivation, with the potential to get themselves accepted into a top-flight university, but without the resources to pay that extra fee for courses that could give them the best opportunity to make the most of themselves (while reflecting favorably on the town and its schools)? There may be issues of constitutionality here.

    Even if we could legally impose a charge for AP courses, what kind of message would this send to our families and to the world: “Here in West Hartford, we want our kids to do pretty well – but if they want to do REALLY well, that’s gonna cost them.”

    I also fear that the few dollars that I might save in taxes due to the assessment of such a fee would be DWARFED by the negative impact on my property values when word gets out that the West Hartford school system disincentivizes high academic achievement.

    I cannot state it more plainly – an extra charge for AP courses is a terrible, terrible idea.

  13. whforums said

    Last I checked, West Hartford students were covered by the 8th article of the state constitution. While many in West Hartford may view AP and music courses as extra-curricular, they are decidedly curricular (and, IMO, constitutionally protected).

    The idea that we would start charging for curricular opportunity challenges the bedrock of public education and only serves to confirm my worst fears.

  14. Cynic said

    Kevin it might very well be a bad idea, but it is worth looking into.

    Low income families receive assistance for the AP Tests now, I would think the same assistance would be available to take the course. This becomes a non-issue.

    Again, there is an honors program in the schools which is perfectly acceptable for college bound students.

    The savings to the students from the AP courses is very real. I believe every AP course equates to roughly $1500/course. And if enough are taken it can equate to a full year of college.

    The Tax me more crowd shouldn’t object to it.

    We are in a situation where nobody wants to cut anything, nobody wants to fire teachers or increase class size, the Board refuses a management audit to look for waste, and the system can not sustain annual 6.5% increases.

    Good or Bad this is just one idea. So let’s have some other ideas.

  15. Kevin Walsh said

    “The savings to the students from the AP courses is very real. I believe every AP course equates to roughly $1500/course. And if enough are taken it can equate to a full year of college.”

    I have no doubt that this is true – and this enormous “bang for the buck” is all the more reason that advocates of responsible spending should CELEBRATE the availability of AP courses, as they provide a tremendous benefit to taxpayers at no incremental cost (of which I am aware) to the town.

    Here’s why. If every AP course offered in West Hartford were eliminated tomorrow, the students enrolled in those courses would still be showing up at school every day, and we would still be paying the same number of teachers, administrators, support staff, maintenance, etc. on the same salary schedules. Thus, the savings realized by the town by dropping AP offerings would essentially be zero.

    On the other hand, and as you have demonstrated, if every AP course were dropped from the curriculum tomorrow, the taxpayers with children enrolled in those courses would suffer a significant financial loss– with no attendant savings realized by the town. I would think that such an outcome would be abhorrent to advocates of responsible spending.

    Your focus on the financial benefits realized by students in AP courses suggests that you view those benefits as somehow representing a cost to the town. I just don’t see it that way.

    I do agree, though, that we should move on to other ideas.

  16. henry said

    Similar jobs in the private sector do NOT pay those types of benefits. Corporate trainers don’t get the same type of benefits and salaries. Teachers at Sylvan etc. don’t get that kind of salary and benefits.
    That is what I meant by unheard of in the private sector.

  17. Cynic said

    Well however anyone wants to argue these points,the Town and State better start getting serious looking at their budgets. Capital gains disappeared today. The State just watched the deficit grow more for the year as a result of the activity on the street and Washington today. Credit in all probability will tighten even further so good luck selling homes.

  18. WH Alum said

    By “similar jobs,” let’s look at professional careers that require at least a masters degree and ongoing professional development. What do those numbers look like?

    I think you will find many teachers “moonlighting” at Sylvan who teach during the day or are teachers who are staying-at-home moms during the day who go to work in the evening when their husbands get home. I don’t believe there are many who do this as their primary source of income, but I could be wrong.

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