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Analysis in Brief of West Hartford’s Second Referendum

Posted by whforums on October 8, 2008

No way around it, the results of the second referendum, while a decisive “No” victory, show a polarized active minority and a generally apathetic majority.

Since the town has been through 3 referenda in a little more than 15 months, it seems sensible that this particular referendum would see the closest percentage vote of the three. But the degree to which the percentages have shifted (from 73-27, to 66-34, 56-44) have been both regular and drastic. Some thoughts:

The first vote (which saw 73% vote “No”) seems now like a novelty vote. It was an easy way to stand up for something. Also, during that first vote, “No” was exceptionally well organized and “Yes” was not organized in any sensible way. In other words, “No” was essentially running unopposed. In the second vote, both sides were organized, and although “No” won a significant majority, “Yes” won one district and managed a result that was 7% closer than the first. In this most recent vote, “No” won only a slim majoirty and Yes won five districts. This is a long way of saying — the will for this second referendum was present, but, in context, weak.

The mandate of this referendum is, by corollary, equally weakened. This seems irrelevant, as the council has not taken significant action (save removing leaf pickup and not extending teaching contracts to new hires — someone correct me if I’m wrong) upon much stronger mandates.

It seems safe to say that West Hartford is suffering from referendum burnout — as the total votes cast continue to increase (summing the three referenda) the will for the referendum declines. This suggests that “No” may be less the will of the people than it is the will of the voters. As more “people” become “voters” (I’m assuming we have more total unique voters after 3 referenda than we had after two) the margins for “No” shrink (this, again, is likely attributable to burnout. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the June ’09 referendum — and yes, I’m expecting that — to be more of a 60-40 split).

The town Democrats were shrewd in threatening to close Firehouse Number One. While the target of this “conversation” was certainly those residents who would be impacted by a decreased service, the real audience may have been town union members who don’t often talk to one another. This threat likely galvanized the fire union to ally with the teacher’s union, thus increasing the “Yes” “base” and, ultimately, the “Yes” turnout.

And still, the inescapable fact — voter turnout was 28% (as opposed to 29% in June). With “Yes” more galvanized, and with a much larger turnout likely in the November 2009 elections, I would be shocked to see Democrats lose their Town Council majority.

The active minority — the 28% voting — are strikingly polarized (by the percentage vote, and by the conversations we all have, hear and read). The real question may be: What is the will of the silent 72%? We all want to hear from as many voices as possible, but right now we can’t even get 3 out of ten people to answer a yes or no question …

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48 Responses to “Analysis in Brief of West Hartford’s Second Referendum”

  1. Kevin Walsh said

    “The real question may be: What is the will of the silent 72%?”

    That is certainly a question that many will ask. The “real” answer to that question is:

    It doesn’t matter. They were silent.

    Folks who don’t exercise their right to vote deserve what they get.

  2. turtle said

    28%! Pathetic.

  3. The Count said

    Considering the Taxpayers Association did pretty much nothing to counter the opposition, I think they did extremely well. They didn’t buy ads, they didn’t stand in the streets, they didn’t go door to door. The Yes side went all out and still lost, even with two big unions in town trying to protect their benefits and using scare tactics which were essentially misleading (who are the liars this time?)
    Even with galvanized tax and spenders out in the streets trying to sway people’s votes and using scare tactics, they still lost.
    That’s no surprise and to me that is quite significant.
    That to me speaks volumes about the sentiment in town, and the sentiment regarding our economy in general.
    Bottom line is whether the margin has shrunk or not – people are sick of higher taxes and misplaced priorities.
    All one has to do is look around town to see how money is being wasted.
    This Town Council better take note, and if they think their seats are safe they better think twice. It will of course all depend on what kind of slate the opposition can muster.
    I think the margin shrunk because of referendum burnout too.
    It will be interesting indeed if money gets real scarce and unions are pitted against one another for money and resources . Then let’s see how chummy they stay.
    As for the silent 72% majority – they are probably all too busy working to pay their taxes and other expenses to be able to care or be involved. They are also pretty sick of the twisted politics that is part of the West Hartford landscape.

    Also one final note: this “engaged YES vote community” thatyou speak of had many people show up to the polls who didn’t know or understand how to vote, or what they were voting on, or even what voting YES or No meant. They came to vote because they were told to. Trust me – I was there and witnessed it for a better part of the day. It was pretty sad indeed to see grown men and women so confused about what they were doing at the polls.

  4. John Hardy said

    “…the council has not taken significant action…upon much stronger mandates…”

    Well maybe it wasn’t the Council, but the Boe: nonetheless, 28 kids crammed into some of our classrooms like sardines seems pretty “significant” to me.

    Then again, what do I know; I’m just a mindless yellow shirt-wearer according to some of the “intelligentsia” of our Town.

  5. Lucy said

    While the “No” votes won, the real take-home lesson – as you noted – is this: looking at West Hartford’s last three budget referendums, the percentage of voters choosing “no” is dropping dramatically. On October 7th, the difference was a mere 1,300 votes (for some perspective, that’s about the same number of people who live in Warren, CT, and significantly less than the number of people hit by lightening every year).

    Clearly, this was no mandate, by any definition of the word.

    And check with our Corporation Counsel. The town council can now either raise the budget, lower the budget, or pass the same budget. But according to the mayor, the council is considering hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of cuts. I’m left puzzled – with the law behind them, and no political mandate, why cut so drastically, or cut at all? Who is served by cuts that hit home for everyone?

    I know there’s a lot of talk that “families and businesses have to sit at the table and balance their budgets, so why not government?” But government’s role and purpose is much different than a family’s (raising health, happy children) or a business’s (profits).

    Government helps create the safe and healthy environment in which families and businesses can thrive in every way. So it’s when economic times are hardest that we need more government support – certainly not less. And we’re not just talking about our poor and working class residents. West Hartford ranks 14th in the entire nation in the percentage of a town’s population that works in finance and related fields. A lot of once-well-off town residents are facing unemployment and financial hardship.

    So what happens if we make the cuts our elected officials are talking about? For one thing, reductions in government spending further hurt an economy (i.e. Connecticut and West Hartford businesses) that counts on government as a regular customer.

    But even more, cuts in government services make it harder for people to keep working, earning, buying, paying their mortgages, and paying taxes. For example:

    > When a family cuts its budget, it may decide not to buy any more new books (and our two book stores will feel this pinch . . .). “We’ll use the library instead,” they reason. But then the town cuts library hours again. If Johnny has no place or time to read, his school learning suffers. So he needs more special attention and programs at school. This drives town costs up. And later, maybe Johnny doesn’t get into the college he might have and make the higher salary he might have. If he’s still in West Hartford, he pays less in taxes all around. The town loses.

    > As fuel prices jump. more seniors and others will try to save money this winter by using space heaters. Space heaters cause fires. If we’ve cut back on fire services, then more of these fires will mean ruined homes and ruined lives. And fewer property taxes for the town.

    > Then there’s that favorite target: town administrative costs. “Fire all the secretaries!” But then we end-up with managers wasting their time stuffing envelopes and screwing-up mail merges — when they should be looking for cost savings and manging efficiently. Again, the town wastes our money.

    These sorts of cuts are all penny wise but tons foolish.

    I urge the council to make no cuts at all. If they stand by their principles, I think they will be pleasantly surprised by the huge degree of public support they will have throughout West Hartford.

    Here, our government supports individuals, families and businesses in good times and in bad.

  6. whforums said

    It’s really frustrating, John — the mud slinging, etc. I’m not sure if I’m struck more by the ugliness, dismissiveness or dispassion of it all. Frankly, if I weren’t throwing this thing together, I probably would have tuned it out. It’s not just that people disagree, it’s that they seem to disagree so fundamentally that they’re scared to examine each other without caricature. We’re living in a time of (at least) 3 West Hartfords, and I’m wondering what town will emerge in the end.

    A part of me wonders when taxes became a burden and not a responsibility, but I suppose, generally speaking, your place on that opinion spectrum would be matched by your place on the income spectrum. Perhaps we can all agree that a significant part of our problem is the antiquated system (property taxes) by which we gather revenue. At the same time, a basic social contract would seem to suggest that there is no right to property without responsibility to each of your neighbors, and since we’re still awash in capital this week, it seems fiduciary responsibility is part of that responsibility.

    And I hear what you’re saying about the overcrowding. Probably won’t last, though — the more we fill the classrooms with students (and teachers who will “do the same job cheaper”), the more moneyed families will head over the mountain or out to another ‘burb. Then we’ll be debating why we built all those schools to begin with.

    And yes, that’s a slippery slope. But when you’re on a precipice, I find it’s “best practice” to look down and see how to best break your fall …

    @ Lucy:

    Thanks for the thoughtful post. A voice like yours is long overdue in our local “blogosphere.”

  7. Kevin Walsh said

    “I urge the council to make no cuts at all. If they stand by their principles, I think they will be pleasantly surprised by the huge degree of public support they will have throughout West Hartford.”

    I find this suggestion more stunning than thoughtful.

    What Lucy is urging here is contempt for the ballot box, plain and simple. It would also certainly attract national media attention to the lasting embarassment of the Council and the town.

    I would be surprised if Lucy’s assertion re: the council’s options following the rejection of the budget at referendum is entirely accurate, but assuming that it is, her argument seems to be, “Yeah, I know that the No folks won, but they didn’t win by very much, so they didn’t REALLY win, and the council should therefore ignore the result of the vote and do whatever they want.”

    I voted Yes, and I would like to see the council stand by its principles, too. But I fully expect that every member of the council recognizes that the highest principle here is government of the people, by the people, and for the people, informed and directed through the ballot box.

    I voted Yes, but given the result of the referendum, I absolutely would not support any budget that does not include additional cuts. I will, in November 2009 and thereafter, vote against any councilor that votes in favor of such a budget, and I will at every opportunity vigorously urge family, friends, and co-workers to do the same.

  8. turtle said

    It’s my understanding that since the budget has been defeated in a second referendum the Town Council’s only option is to cut the budget further. I have heard Lucy’s assertion before, however, so there seems to be confusion on the matter.

    The “Count” (any relation to the “King”?) offers a lot of bluster about how the Town Council better “watch out”, etc. Fearless prediction: the Democrats will keep their majority. Why? First, they are thoughtful, committed people who have done a fine job running the town under difficult circumstances. Second, the Republican party in West Hartford has been hijacked by the kind of ideologues who wrecked the national GOP: that is, movement conservatives and libertarians not only hostile to government and the public sector but contemptuous of reality-based policy-making. The irony is that this ideology has unleashed destruction of the PRIVATE sector as well. Heckava job!

    Mind you, I am not speaking of “No” voters in general. While the West Hartford Taxpayers Association has been successful in demagoguing the budget process and sowing suspicion and distrust of town government, many voters simply can’t afford to pay tax hikes every year (in addition to being terrified by all the chaos in the financial markets). The remarkable thing is that the budget got as much support as it did. The Count’s contention that the WHTA did “nothing” to counter the opposition is too funny. I guess if you set aside the Association fixtures at Board of Ed and Town Council meetings, ongoing media appearances by the Association leadership, indefatigable letters-to-the-editor and furious blogging by Association sympathizers, yeah, they did “nothing”.

    I agree with Kevin Walsh that the Town Council must respond to the voters and cut the budget.

  9. in fighting said

    The bloggers against the budget sounds as if the employees of the town non-union or union are not your equal. As if they do not have to participate in the property tax system, buy fuel, and have grocery vouchers. As if they are another class of citizen. Can the no vote leadership please provide us an actual w2 comparison of a secretary at The Hartford or a Hospital and one at the town, or a experianced heavy equipment operator at public works vs one at Tilcon or a equal large construction firm.
    I would imagine they sit at the same dinner table and look at their family budgets much like the “no” coalition. We are in this together, but its seam like you want the council memebers to find a fix all, but don’t take my leaf service away.

  10. WHTaxpayer said

    According to the Town’s budget proposal, the Town will spend $33,370,755 in wages and another $18,166,416 on fringe benefits this year for its 401 employees. That works out to $83,323 average salary and $45,303 average fringe benefits per employee for a total of $128,522 per person. This is not only dramatically above the average for the State, it is significantly higher than the average for the Town of West Hartford. Though already high, wages are rising at the rate of 5% annually due to negotiated base increases, guaranteed merit and COLA increases and discretionary bonuses. Benefits, which are already may times higher than those of the population at large, are rising over 12% annually due not only to healthcare, but also due to lavish vacation allowances and vacation buyback provisions, 3 weeks of sick days per year and 12 paid holidays including one’s birthday. At retirement time, our pampered employees can cash in 50 banked vacation days and 150 banked sick days at their final salary and accept employment elsewhere while receiving a generous lifetiem defined-benefit pension and post-retirement healthcare regardless of their age.
    There is NOTHING in the private sector to compare to this because wages and benefits of this magnitude are unaffordable to ANY business in the competitive marketplace. Wake up people! These are imbedded costs and they will not go away on their own. wages and benefits will continue to eat up an increasing share of the Town and BOE budgets without any positive impact on the quality of education or Town services.

  11. Lucy said

    I think it’s wonderful that we can debate policy and ideas on a great blog like this.

    But the Internet’s reputation for (in)accuracy will take another big hit if people keep questioning facts of law. And entire arguments lose their credibility really fast.

    So, if you must, call the extremely helpful Pat Eclair, Deputy West Hartford Corpration Counsel. Or I’m sure one his colleagues can help.

    But this is a FACT and TRUE:

    The town council can now either raise the budget, lower the budget, or pass the same budget. (Darn – it’s looks like there’s no “bolding” on this form)

    Facts are things you don’t have to wonder about or raise doubts about or question. So we can all happily move on.

    edited to remove phone number

  12. Lucy said

    Oops – forgot one thing. I hate to get stuck on facts again (they can SO get in the way of a good argument!) But the ballot I got Tuesday read,

    “Are you in favor of the substitute budget ordinance as adopted on June 24?”

    Here are things it did NOT say:

    > If you vote “NO,” proceed to Question #2.

    #2: “By voting ‘NO,’ are we to assume you want us to REDUCE the budget?”

    If you answered #2 with a “YES,” then proceed to Question #3.

    #3: “By voting “YES” on #2, are yousaying you want us to cut the budget a little, a little more, or a whole huge bunch more?”

    #4 “How do you REALLY feel about vacuum leaf pick-ups? Because our inquiring minds want to know!”

    Cheers!!

  13. turtle said

    $128,522 per person

    That looks handsome from where I’m sitting, but isn’t “average salary” misleading? I’m skeptical that the top town administrators make more than othe rhighly-paid professionals like doctors, lawyers, and business executives. In addition, the town must offer competitive salaries if it wants to attract quality people.

    lavish vacation allowances and vacation buyback provisions, 3 weeks of sick days per year and 12 paid holidays including one’s birthday

    There are 10 federal holidays, so the town employees get their birthday and an additional (religious?) holiday off. Sorry, I can’t work up any outrage over that one. On the other hand, it would be reasonable to cut the paid birthday.

    Do the 3 weeks of sick days include maternity or family leave? How long do you have to work for the town before you’re eligible for 3 weeks of sick time?

    There is NOTHING in the private sector to compare to this because wages and benefits of this magnitude are unaffordable to ANY business in the competitive marketplace.

    Really? ANY business? Small business, yes. Big business? Please. Anyway, comparing the town government to the private sector is apples to oranges. Compared to other towns in Connecticut West Hartford is a high-service town, and the WHPS rank quite low in terms of administrative costs (135th) for such a high-performing district.

    I’d be interested to know more about wages & benefits, however, since it’s such a significant chunk of the budget.

  14. WHTaxpayer said

    Turtle,
    Average means everyone is in there, from the Directors to the entry level positions and when you take the total amount they are paid and divide it by the total number of people, they average $83,219 per person in wages and $45,303 in benefits.

    The top Town administrator is the Town Manager who makes $145,002 base salary. He can sell back 4 weeks vacation at 1/260th of his annual salary so he makes and additional $11,154 there for a total of $156,156 plus an undisclosed bonus. So the highest paid employee makes twice the average. After selling back 4 weeks vacation he still has 3 weeks vacation and 3 weeks paid sick leave per year. The next level includes the directors who all have base salaries of $110,000 to $120,000 per year.

    Take all of these folks out of the mix and the average salary for the remaining Town employees is $82,023. You will not find any “Big Business” with Average wages and benefits anywhere near this level.

  15. turtle said

    Thank you, but I do know what an average is. My point was that is doesn’t tell you much about the salary range relative to civil servant positions elsewhere. It’s just not a very helpful measure in my view.

    So the town manager has 7 weeks vacation? That is a lot. The average town employee is making $83K? Really? Where do I sign?!

    Where did you get these figures, by the way?

  16. WHTaxpayer said

    Adopted Budget 2008-2009 Chapter “S” available on the Town website

  17. turtle said

    Lucy:

    I’m certainly not interested in undermining facts. It’s just that fairly recently I was told otherwise about the Town Council’s opotions by a credible source (though not the Corporation Counsel!). I voted YES on the budget, but on the other hand, it’s clear from the referendum that voters want a lower tax burden. As much as I oppose cutting the budget, I think the Council should respect the spirit of the referendum over the letter.

    One day I’ll tell my grandchildren: once upon a time when the United States was in a terrible tailspin a cranky lady named Judy Aron had a hissy fit over leaf pickup in West Hartford. Then we’ll all crack up before jumping into a big pile of leaves.

  18. At the center said

    If these budget showdowns are going to become a regular feature of town life — ugh! — then the supporters need to spend some money, build a database of families with children in the schools and other likely yes vote and reach out to them in myriad ways before the polls open. We can’t afford to let a hard core of older and penny-pinching voters prevent our elected leaders from doing what we elected them to do. This is just crazy.
    I’m very angry.
    With every no vote, we send a loud message to people to move somewhere else.

  19. turtle said

    Supporters of the budget do have an advocacy group! It’s called West Hartford First.

  20. Joe B said

    Let’s all just be patriotic and shut up and pay our taxes, no matter how high they get.

  21. reply to At The Center said

    Despite the best efforts of the media to portray it as such, this is not a disagreement between young and old or school and non-school. The issue here is between accountability for the 75 cents of every budget dollar that goes toward wages and benefits or no accountability. The 25 cents thats left over to cover outside services, operating expenses and capital expenditures is merely a sideshow. this issue is whether or not our tax dollars spent on wages and benefits are well spent or not.
    The problem is no one can tell. We have no involvement in the labor negotiations, only a bill after its all said and done. We have no information on the breakdown of our tax dollars to the employees of the Town – only a summary that says the bill went up another 5%. We have no say in the decisions made to provide greater or lesser benefits that we are saddled with for decades to come – just a vague statement that healthcare costs are rising for everyone. Finally, our elected officials shrug their collective shoulders, claim their hands have been tied by binding arbitration and the commitments of previous administrations and steadfastly refuse to open the books to anyone who might second guess the decisions they make behind closed doors.
    This need not be a divisive issue in Town. I don’t believe anyone – young, old, school, non-school – is in favor of enriching Town employees at the cost of quality education and services. The question hanging out there remains “Are our tax dollars being spent effectively or not?”
    After absorbing 40% increases in property taxes in the last 5 years, reassuring references to AAA ratings (which has absolutely nothing to do with the cost-effectiveness of our Town government) no longer suffice.

  22. Cynic said

    At the center Says:
    October 9, 2008 at 3:37 pm
    If these budget showdowns are going to become a regular feature of town life — ugh! — then the supporters need to spend some money, build a database of families with children in the schools and other likely yes vote and reach out to them in myriad ways before the polls open. We can’t afford to let a hard core of older and penny-pinching voters prevent our elected leaders from doing what we elected them to do. This is just crazy.
    I’m very angry.
    With every no vote, we send a loud message to people to move somewhere else.

    I guess perspective is everything, the NO voters feel exactly the same way.
    Remember, These Same Councilors ran on a platform of fiscal responsinbility. Ther apparently are many in town who don’t think they are fulfilling their promise

  23. turtle said

    Finally, our elected officials shrug their collective shoulders, claim their hands have been tied by binding arbitration and the commitments of previous administrations and steadfastly refuse to open the books to anyone who might second guess the decisions they make behind closed doors.

    The NO-sayers are fond of making these accusations. Which decisions are you referring to specifically?

    The AAA rating is awarded to “the best quality borrowers, reliable and stable”. Are you saying that fiscal responsibility bears no relation to “the best quality” creditworthiness? Really?

  24. WHTaxpayer said

    The NO-sayers are fond of making these accusations. Which decisions are you referring to specifically?

    The AAA rating is awarded to “the best quality borrowers, reliable and stable”. Are you saying that fiscal responsibility bears no relation to “the best quality” creditworthiness? Really?

    Turtle,
    In answer to your first question I would refer you to the recent decision to elevate the 62 year old Director of Community Services to the position of “Interim” Town Manager and promote someone else to backfill him. Meanwhile, the Town is launching a “national search” for a permanent Town Manager. Impact of these moves on the taxpayer? About a $500,000 increase in current and future obligations to these two individuals with zero beneficial impact on education or Town services.

    Regarding your second question, a AAA rating merely states that the Town is very likely to repay the Bonds. Why? Because the bonds are “secured by the Town’s general obligation unlimited tax pledge” meaning the Town has committed to raise taxes as necessary to pay back the bonds. Moody’s and the other rating agencies don’t know or care whether the taxpayer’s money is being spent wisely so long as they have the guarantee from the Town that taxes will be increased as necessary to ensure the bonds are repaid.

  25. turtle said

    You left out the rest:

    The rating assignment and affirmation of Moody’s highest rating reflects the town’s sizeable and diverse equalized net grand list (ENGL), satisfactory financial reserves bolstered by reserved retained earnings in the health insurance fund, and manageable debt burden governed by a comprehensive 12-year capital plan. The rating also considers the town’s socioeconomic indices that trend below state and national medians for Aaa-rated municipalities.

    Shorter version: West Hartford is a fiscally responsible town, especially given its demographics.

  26. WHTaxpayer said

    Turtle,
    You seem to be a knowledgeable person so I’m sure you have deciphered the meaning of the paragraph you posted. The Town’s sizeable grand list is large for the population and Moody’s likes that. They don’t mention that it is predominantly residential and growing more so every year with the revaluation phase-in. This, of course means the tax burden is shifting more and more to the residential taxpayer. The Town is catching up for underfunding its pension and other post-retirement obligations and Moody’s likes the fact that these moneys are not coming solely out of the current year General Fund as this reduces the likelihood of the Town failing to repay its bond obligations. This also goes for the Health Insurance Fund, payments to which are growing at a compound annual rate of over 10%, from $4.63 million this year to $12.9M in 2021. Again. Moody’s is happy the Town is putting the money aside – it couldn’t care less whether the expense is justified or not. Without the Town’s “general obligation unlimited tax pledge” all those nice words wouldn’t mean anything to Moody’s.

    The issue is not the quality of the bookkeeping. The issue is the quality of the decision-making regarding the wages and benefits that comprise three-quarters of the budget and that are rising at unsustainable rates.

  27. turtle said

    I appreciate the point you’re making, and of course I wouldn’t expect a rating agency to assess whether an FTE here or a job search there is fiscally prudent. The question was whether it’s legitimate for the town to offer their AAA rating as evidence of fiscal repsonsibility. I think yes, you think no, so we’ll have to agree to disagree.

    I’ve pretty much ignored the kerfluffle over Mr. Van Winkle’s promotion to interim town manager. It’s entirely conventional to 1) appoint interim officeholders and 2) conduct a national search to fill important administrative positions. West Hartford may be at a tipping point so it’s imperative to hire a top-notch manager. Now that the economy has crashed all bets are off about how the town will weather the fallout. The Dow dipped under 8000 this morning. Scary.

    Mr. Francis did get a handsome pension. On the other hand, he had put in 28 years (or thereabouts) in service to West Hartford, and the town is flourishing–at least, it was until the economic crisis–so I can’t get too excited about what appears to be a just reward.

  28. WHTaxpayer said

    Turtle,
    Your remarks confirm my opinion of you as a thoughtful individual. It seems best we agree to disagree over the ratings agencies. My point is what they are looking for from the Town and we are looking for are two different things. While clearly it is more desireable to have a high rating than a low one, just look at the number of entities that have gone under while holding high ratings from these agencies.
    I knew Jim Francis and don’t begrudge him his due. He worked hard and followed the rules and he is enjoying the full benefit allowed under those rules in retirement. When he started with the Town, public sector wages were significantly lower than in the private sector. Benefits were much better, the work was not overly taxing and job security was greater. Over the 28 years he was here, wages grew dramatically and now equal or exceed those in the private sector. Public-sector benefits have morphed away from their intended purpose and now represent both an abuse of the system and an unsustainable burden to the taxpayer. That this has been allowed to occur wasn’t Jim’s fault and he merely took full advantage of the system that was allowed to develop.
    Jim’s retirement should serve as an opportunity to re-examine the present system and at least pause to reflect before carrying on with business as usual. Unfortunately, that opportunity has been squandered.

  29. John Hardy said

    WH Taxpayer –

    While I don’t agree with everything you say (though quite a bit of it, actually), your comments are more than fair and – most important – not rancorous.

    It is my hope that such an even-keeled exchange can move into the “real” (non-blog) world. For whatever reason, elected officials of both parties don’t seem to be doing this. And while I have attempted – here, elsewhere in the “blogosphere,” and publically – to move beyond the rigid battlelines that I, admittedly, help set, it doesn’t seem that all parties are ready to do so (my “yellow shirt” reference earlier in this string).

    In closing, my “analysis” of the referendum is that while we may disagree on some matters of policy, most reasonable people in Town all have the same goals – to keep the community successful. We as that community have much work to do together to achieve and perpetuate those goals.

  30. John Hardy said

    Sorry about that – it’s “publicly” and not “publically.”

    What I get for posting when I should be working.

  31. Lucy said

    It seems, from my perch, that much of the ill feeling that some town residents have for West Hartford government deals specifically with employee benefits. And the benefit I hear most about is health insurance.

    Let’s face it – our state’s health care system is an expensive disaster. The Courant reported yesterday that health care premiums in Connecticut rose 8.2 times faster than salaries from 2000 to 2007. Too many of us are uninsured (more than 325,000 in Connecticut), underinsured, or paying through the nose for skyrocketing premiums, co-pays, and deductibles — while finding that fewer and fewer treatments are covered. Medical debit is the leading cause of personal bankruptcy and one of the leading causes of home foreclosures. And it seems to get worse every day.

    So naturally, we are angry. And where better to direct our rage and our envy that at one of the few groups in the state that, by virtue of organizing, still has decent health care benefits? After all, why them and not me??

    But here’s the rub: slicing town employee health care benefits may save you a few dollars at taxpaying time – but it WON’T bring down your own $2,500 deductible or your $2,000/month premiums or your $60 prescription co-pays. It WILL just make our town employees poorer and sicker and less able to do their jobs well.

    So let’s redirect that justifiable rage. There are a number of groups in Connecticut working hard to build a health care system that guarantees quality, affordable health for every state resident. And guess what? Every reputable study on the subject demonstrates that health care for everyone SAVES money for individuals, families, businesses, and the state [Note to readers: insert unproven, anecdotal generalization about infinitely long lines to see a doctor in Canada here].

    We can save our resentment at town employees and our bitterness toward town negotiators. We canmake a real difference. Go to the web sites of the Connecticut branches of AARP or the American Cancer Society or Connecticut’s own “healthcare4every1.org.” All have made quality, affordable health care their priority, and all would welcome your support.

    It’ll feel almost as good as a rant.

  32. Flip Little said

    Lucy said;

    Too many of us are uninsured (more than 325,000 in Connecticut), underinsured, or paying through the nose for skyrocketing premiums, co-pays, and deductibles — while finding that fewer and fewer treatments are covered.

    I was in the marines for thirty years and i have great coverage. If all the citezens of america get there lazy behinds up and do some good for the U.S. then they all would have healthcare just as good as me! The health insurance company also give hundred of jobs to my fellow people of connecticut and without them the property values would all go down. The insurance companys are the back bone to our sociaty and without them Hartford would be down in the dirts. The U.S. econamy is already suffering without people like you and we can not afford any more blows.

    I say, the West Hartford schools are fine enough. The places where you really learn what’s important in life is outside of schools, the knowledge of adventure and freedom is not found in cramped little quarters with 20 kids and 1 teacher. The fruits of life are not learning about great happenings but doing them yourself. If we have to drop one tiny little thing in our wasted school system to increase the streength and power of West hartford then so be it. Life is lived outside of school and the only instructer of your knowledge and your spirit should be yourself, not a teacher.

    As with “Lucy”, something seems “fishy” about you.

  33. Get Real said

    If employee benefits are at the crux of the spiraling increases in costs then that is what we ought to concentrate on addressing – all the rest is bluster.

    The fact is that the unions in this town have been able to get away with unbelievable compensation in their “negoatiations’ and our town leaders have not had the balls – or even the desire – to put their foot down and say no. They can simply say we will give into your demands but there will be a price to pay in us having to fire people. The truth is they won’t do that. That’s the problem. The same goes for non-union jobs which town leaders are all too willing to help feather their friends retirement and benefits nests.

    Like it or not – these costs are rising much higher then we can afford or sustain them. Our towns all over CT are going broke because of that. services are being cut because of that. We can’t buy new equipment because of that.
    I have news for you all – raising taxes won’t make it go away and bonding won’t make it go away.
    The solution is to finally DEAL with the way we compensate people in this town, and to do it more in line with what the private sector is doing.

    So while Turtle and the “yellow shirts” can help lobby for every escalating taxes, (and viciously criticize those who are standing up to say no) because they think this is going to preserve property taxes and great schools, they are totally missing the point. The point is people have reached the tipping point of not being able to afford to pay for all of this – it is indeed as many have said – an issue of sustainability.

    Get it through your heads that young people as well as old people voted down this budget. Enough already with the manufactured devisiveness. When this town gets to the bottom of how money is spent maybe we can all agree that there are better and more efficient ways to get the services we need and want, until then, the name calling and ugliness will be a reguilar part of West Hartford life. That is truly unfortunate.

  34. turtle said

    Who has been “viciously criticized”?

    Where is the “name calling and ugliness”?

    Who, in fact, is manufacturing divisiveness here?

  35. Lucy said

    Flip Little –

    I agree with you completely that life’s most important lessons are learned outside od school. I would love my kids to be spending less time in musty classrooms (One note: you mentioned classrooms “crowded with 20 kids.” We could only wish! With the budget cuts that followed last June’s referendum, some of my child’s middle school classes now have more than 30 kids.)

    I have mentioned the advantages of more out-of-classroom activities to a number of teachers and administrators. But there’s one big problem: less time in class means less time cramming for CMT’s and other standardized tests that have become the favored fetish of policy-makers. Too bad there’s no test to measure the things you know matter most: character, respect, creativity, imagination, ingenuity, tolerance, and honor.

    As for health insurance: Unfortunately, I am a bit too old and – to put it gently – “unseaworthy” to join our proud Marine Corp and get the great health care coverage you mentioned. Also, so many people I’ve met seem strongly opposed to government-run health care. Given your great experience with it, do you have any idea why this might be the case??

    As for my “fishy” qualities: you are correct, and I must apologize. I was eating an excellent tuna-on-rye sandwich (with the TINIEST touch of mayo) while typing that particular post, and I’m afraid that a few crumbs of tuna fell onto the keys used for writing the words “the,” “AARP,” and “binoculars.” Sorry the odor made it onto the Net.

    Be well.

  36. Lucy said

    Get Real –

    My parents raised me to be political. (Or was that “polite?” Darn . . . Mom and Dad, I think I misheard you, and I’m truly, truly sorry!)

    So I will graciously thank you for summarizing my comments about health care as “bluster.” Too many blogs these days are clogged with well-thought-out, point-by-point responses to previous posts. These responses can be lengthy, time-consuming to read, and filled with words many of us don’t understand – and never want to! In today’s hard economic climate, we all need to cut back, reduce, and conserve. “Bluster” only uses 7 letters (and NONE of those X’s or Q’s that are worth so much and could drive us all out of West Hartford, preferably in that speedy “Car Pool” lane.) Now that’s REAL savings.

  37. WHTaxpayer said

    Lucy,
    I disagree with your assertion that the crux of the problem involves health care. Every entity, public or private, is struggling with health care costs. An overall solution is required. In the meanwhile, WH has created problems of our own doing involving other lavish fringe benefits – vacation policies, vacation buyback, sick days, the banking of vacation and sick days and pension eligibility – and these are what’s driving WH to ruin.

  38. Lucy said

    WHTaxpayer,

    I believe you are confusing me with our fellow blogger, “Get Real.” He or she described employee benefits as “THE CRUX of the problem.” Because the issues involved are so complex, I tend to use a lot of words like “seems” and “could be” when I post. As a relative novice at this blogging business, I have been amazed to encounter (virtually, that is) so many people who are absolutely certain that they are absolutely correct. I envy their self-confidence! I hope I’m smart enough to know that I’m not smart enough to know exactly why people do what they do – in West Hartford or anywhere else.

    Here’s another admission: I find the relentless, detailed, back-and-forth posts here (and on other blogs) about vacation days and pensions and COLA and discretionary bonuses to be mind-numbing and exhaustive. That’s not to say that these topics may not matter when it comes to cost-savings. But PLEASE – perhaps they are best addressed through snail-mailed (multi-paged, single-spaced) correspondence directly with the town manager? They certainly can’t be bringing more participation to the blogosphere.

    Does anyone else feel this way?

    By the way, exactly which parts of West Hartford are being “driven to ruin?”

    Be well.

  39. WHTaxpayer said

    Lucy,
    Thank you. I am well. It is precisely this mind-numbing, exhaustive detail that is the source of the problem and the potential solution. The problem is that this detail is only discussed behind closed doors and the taxpayers are not represented at the bargaining table. The costs of this stuff are truly amazing yet our elected officials give it away as if the well will never run dry.
    Stop and think about one case – one that just occurred. The Town Manager “retires” to a higher paying job in CA. What to do? Apparently, the Council felt that there was no logical successor so they launch a nation-wide search for a replacement. Right thing to do, yes?
    But in the meanwhile, they promote the Director of Community Services to the post of “Interim Town Manager” with the same salry as the departing Town Manager. They also promote a successor to the Director of Community Services position. All sems logical, right?
    However, due to the retirement and post-retirement benefits package in place, these two seemingly logical moves added about half a million dollars to the current and future obligations of the taxpayers of West Hartford. Did this $500,000 improve the quality of education or Town services? No. All it did was fatten the wallets of two Town employees at the expense of the taxpayer.
    Can you blame the individuals involved? No. They are playing by the rules. Can you blame the elected officials who supposed to be protecting the taxpayer when making and applying the rules? Absolutely.

  40. Kevin Walsh said

    Perhaps we should have left the Town Manager position vacant.

  41. WHTaxpayer said

    Doubt anyone would have noticed. The Town manager gets 7 weeks vacation and three weeks of sick days in addition to the 12 paid holidays per year. The Town manages to survive these absences, which total about two and half months, so with a little succession planning, I’m sure we would have muddled through.

  42. Lucy said

    Whatever the intentions, these are some of “messages” I think many people hear when they read all these posts about excessive town employee salaries and benefits:

    1) That public unions are evil. That their members have little interest in doing their jobs well. That, in fact, their actual goals are: 1) Make as much money with as many benefits as possible (Which makes government employment – as opposed to, say, medicine or law – a curious career choice, one might think); and 2) Drain the town budget into bankruptcy (Which to this non-therapist still seems a bit suicidal).

    2) That the people West Hartford’s voters choose to run the town, and the managers hired by those chosen representatives, are all either knaves, fools, or both (The reasons that we voters of West Hartford keeping choosing such horrific people to run our town for us remain a bit murky. Have we all become intoxicated — by the aromatic roses in Elizabeth Park? Have we been blinded senseless by the glare from neighboring Hartford’s Rising Star? Or is this the right time to blame the drive-in media?)

    3) That bigger questions and issues are not relevant to the discussion, since we already know the enemy (see above). A more fair system for funding education than local property taxes? Regional solutions to tough financial challenges, such as those discussed in Sunday’s Courant? A rebuilt health care system that reins in our skyrocketing health care costs? All are topics which directly effect West Hartford’s ability to pay for staff and services.

    Well, right now, I’m a little verklempt. You can talk amongst yourselves. I mentioned three topics. Discuss.

  43. turtle said

    Does anyone else feel this way?

    I don’t. I’m interested in the information WHTaxpayer offers here (and like John Hardy appreciate WHTaxpayer’s civil tone). That stuff is good to know.

    On the other hand, I completely agree with you that the conspiracy-mongering and paranoia promoted by certain ubiquitous libertarians and free-market ideologues in West Hartford belies the confidence voters have expressed in our town leaders. Of course union-bashing is a staple of their rhetoric. On the other hand, I hope all parties are willing to compromise in future negotiations. Times are tough, no?

    No matter how rational a solution regionalism may be, I continue to think it’s a non-starter politically. Talk me down, Lucy! And I’d be interested to know what you think about President…er, Senator Obama’s health care plan.

  44. Joe B said

    Turtle – Who exactly are the ubiquitous Libertarians and free-market ideologues that you are referring to exactly? Inquiring minds want to know. Why don’t you help me run those conspiracy mongering paranoids out of town (offensive imagery removed … I don’t think libeling other members with some of America’s ugliest history is funny, productive or relevant … ed.) …

  45. whMom said

    I’ve always wondered why the BoE doesn’t fight to separate their budget from the Town budget in the polls. From my conversations with many No voters, it’s not for lack of support of the schools. Their No votes are based upon what they see as waste in the town, not the classroom.

    I’d be interested to see if that bears weight. I think the town puts a lot of the burden on the school system and people go right for the red herring. Meanwhile, up go the granite curbs. Hiding behind the fact that the schools take the brunt of the cuts and the publicity is cowardly. Of course parents will vote yes- they feel as if their children’s education is being held hostage.

    If there’s a clause that stipulates one vote to pass all budgets, then it makes sense. What doesn’t make sense is not finding out what the citizens of the town are really saying when they vote No.

  46. Cynic said

    Last week it appears that West Hartford has finally started billing Hartford for SPED services provided to Open Choice kids.

    I believe the billed amount was 198K representing 2 years.

    For how long did West Hartford miss this?
    What else is being missed?

    This is why everything/department needs to be looked at. If there is no waste great, but with the rapidly changing economy everything is on the table.

    ECS funding dried up in the last 6 weeks. The State is broke. The Guv has asked all depts. to look to cut 10% each. The State is expecting a $1bill deficit for each of the next 2 years. The Couran claims taxes from Greenwich will dry up, a major hit for the State

    It will be no better for the Fed.
    Capital gains taxes have disappeared for the next 3-5years.

    Companies have started laying off as the credit crunch gets worse. I was in the Post Office today and they mentioned those with less than 6yrs on the job will be history.

    This is not a pretty picture and it is getting worse.

  47. whforums said

    @wh Mom
    “If there’s a clause that stipulates one vote to pass all budgets, then it makes sense. What doesn’t make sense is not finding out what the citizens of the town are really saying when they vote No.”

    I envy you that paragraph.

    I think it’s also important to know what the citizens of the town are really saying when they vote “Yes.” For example, I voted “Yes” in part because of how ugly the campaigning (at least the online campaigning) of “No” was around referendum time. When the implicit argument took on an anti-public education (and “the government is out to get me“)tone, it made it clear to me what side of the issue I was on.

  48. whMom said

    I voted Yes because I know what will be cut. More Quest programs. More teachers. More services that make this a great town in which to live. The nasty tactics on both sides (IMO, of course)didn’t sway me one bit.

    In fact, the only thing that nearly swayed me outside of actual issues was the assumption that because I have a child in the school that I would vote Yes. It’s what made me realize that the way budgets are proposed leads to taking the votes of parents in this town for granted.

    If WHFirst and the TPA are really interested in negotiation, they would be better served to find out the motivatates both sides of the vote.

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