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Archive for the ‘budget cuts’ Category

Someone Really Wants You to Know Your Taxes “Could Go Up 7 Percent”

Posted by whforums on January 7, 2009

The question of “why is this news” was probably lost when your eyes bulged out of your head.

From an article in The Courant today:

If no programs or personnel are cut and state aid doesn’t increase, residents will likely be facing a tax hike of about 7 percent in fiscal year 2009-10.

The town council and school board will host a community summit Jan. 28 to begin identifying which services to preserve and which to cut, and to spell out what local officials can and cannot do with respect to union contracts, property revaluation and other issues.

“We think that 7 percent is unacceptable, but it’s going to take significant program cuts to lower it,” Mayor Scott Slifka said Tuesday. “The changes could be dramatic, and the community needs to be part of that discussion.” …

Hoping for a large turnout, officials are seeking participation from business owners, parents, union members, the Exchange and Rotary clubs and other fraternal groups, the West Hartford Taxpayers Association, which has opposed the last several budgets, and West Hartford FIRST, which has supported those budgets, particularly in the area of education funding.

The whole thing catches me a little bit short — the announcement of such a startling “possible” tax increase could simply be an effort to increase turnout at the January 28th meeting (to really listen to the community and to seek help from the community — a “people, help your government with this problem” moment). In that case, it’s a beautiful example of democracy. In an election year, however, a 7% tax increase seems unlikely (and we already know where some budget cuts can be made — like leaf collection). This makes the cynical voice in my head say “How do you get people to swallow a 3.5% tax increase? You tell ’em you’re going to increase their taxes 7% first.” Or maybe, since no one likes cutting programs and personnel, this is a wake up call to that necessity, or, at best, a way to make that necessity more palatable (or politically safe). Or maybe it’s just a way to ratchet pressure on the state — one of the above “ifs” is “if state aid does not increase.” This seems equally likely considering there is likely going to be state aid coming from Washington soon (though I’m not sure it will be here soon enough for the start of the West Hartford budget making season).

The WHTA is encouraging the Council to reject the new teacher contract (which ensures raises, above and beyond step increases, of 1 and 1.25 percent — which, as I figured in some post somewhere else, is about the cost of a year of leaf collection). The Council seems unlikely to do so. Asking the union to accept a pay freeze or a step freeze for academic year 09-10 doesn’t seem unacceptable to me, but there would have to be a a significant payoff (in pay or step increase) down the road. And it would be unfair to ask teachers to take a pay freeze if other town employees don’t take the same pay freeze (granted, with union contracts, such equal “treatment” of all employees is likely impossible).

So. Yeah. Your taxes “could” go up 7 percent. What’s the strategy behind news like that?

Posted in Budget, budget cuts, Crap Economy, Local Democracy, Sorry I'm So Cynical, Taxes, West Hartford | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

$600,000 Gone from the Budget. What Do We Cut Next?

Posted by whforums on October 15, 2008

What. You think you could do better?

The Courant reports that Adler and Visconti promised a 3.3 million dollar cut, presented a 2.6 million dollar cut, discovered they had cut a whole bunch of services twice (a great way to save money!) and ultimately presented a 1.4 million dollar cut before voting unanimously with the group to approve the $600,000 cut.

Proposed in the Adler/Visconti plan were $500,000 more from the schools and the removal of an undercover narcotics unit from New Britain Ave./Prospect/Boulevard and Park. I can see the justification for asking for $500,000 from the schools (though I don’t agree with it) — but cutting community policing? In the context of the summer we just had (remember that “spike” in crime?) in what way does this possibly sound like a good idea?

*hangs head and slowly shakes it*

So, what now West Hartford? Slifka said last night:

“In the clear light of day, we’re going to have to assess all of these things, but we need to hear from the community.”

So, community, be heard. Where do we start making cuts in town services beyond these $600,000?

I’ll start. As a town of 60,000 people, do we really need two senior centers? Could we move all of Town Hall, with the exception of emergency services, to a 4 day work week? Should we commission a study re: the efficacy of moving some schools to a 4 day school week (I don’t like this idea terribly, but if I’m going to throw that bomb out there about senior centers, I might as well go after the kids, too)?  As for leaf-pickup, time to give that up, folks.

Posts later this week about the “Problem with Property Taxes” and the Larson/Visconti/Fournier race.

Posted in Budget, budget cuts, Local Democracy, West Hartford | Tagged: , | 26 Comments »

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 …

Posted in Budget, budget cuts, Local Democracy, Referendum, West Hartford | Tagged: , | 48 Comments »

Referendum Part Deux is Tomorrow, Tuesday, October 7th

Posted by whforums on October 5, 2008

Reminder that the budget referendum is tomorrow.  If you have last minute things you want to say, please share here.

You can read a post from WH FIRST here, and a post from the WHTA here.  No excuse not to be informed.

When you walk into the booth, you’ll be confronted with the following question:

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

Answering “Yes,” sensibly, means, Yes, I’m in favor of the budget as it stands.

Answering “No,” sensibly, means, No, I’m opposed to the budget as it stands.

I’m predicting a closer result (by percentage) with fewer total votes cast.

Posted in Budget, budget cuts, Local Democracy, Referendum, West Hartford | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

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 »

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 »

Why Is West Hartford Giving the Tax Collector a 4 Day Work Week?

Posted by whforums on July 9, 2008

In what can only be described as vaguely ironic, the Hartford Courant today posts a reminder that the office of the tax collector will be closed (permanently) on Fridays. Although the office will remain open more than 35 hours per week, it is ridiculously bad PR to be making this “budget cut” in the middle (or perhaps it’s really the lull) of the referendum season. Which isn’t to say the town shouldn’t continue to examine how many town hall services they can switch to a four day work week (though the more we cut our budgets at the expense of public services – read leaf collection – the more we should demand greater budget transparency), but is to say that, in our current local political climate, a headline like this looks bad and stirs up bad feelings. Not exactly a win-win.

More simply: those who want to hear a spiteful undertone will have no problem looking at looking at this news and hearing “You don’t like higher taxes? Ok. We’ll pay the taxman the same and make ‘em work less” rather than “We’re doing everything we can to limit town spending.” And this will only serve as fuel for those who (mistakenly) perceive the town council’s most recent budget cuts as vindictive (and for those who don’t seem to process the connection between services and taxes).

The town clerk’s office and the assessment office are also switching over to four day work weeks (sign me up, etc.).

Link to Courant story.

photo credit

Posted in Budget, budget cuts | Tagged: , , | 4 Comments »