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.