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Archive for the ‘Budget’ 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 »

West Hartford FIRST Proposal for a Better Budget Process

Posted by whforums on January 3, 2009

A few weeks ago, iBlog West Hartford had a post about the WHTA’s attempt to work more closely with town leaders (and to soften an image that may generally be perceived as partisan). As the WHTA attempts to gain access to the political process, West Hartford FIRST also remains active in making proposals for significant change in the way that West Hartford composes its budget (though WH FIRST has received less publicity – I mean, as far as I can tell, their proposals – and, more simply, their attempt to gain access to the political process – didn’t get any coverage in The Courant).

Even though you probably haven’t heard about it (at least I hadn’t heard about it until the document below showed up in my inbox), WH FIRST has written a detailed, nine point proposal that calls for a more clear – and a more democratic – budget process for West Hartford. WH FIRST would like to see a budget process that’s not only more transparent, but that also encourages and engages resident participation in each of its drafting stages. While the proposal mostly delineates specific ways that the budget process could be improved, WH FIRST’s more general point seems to be the following: the current problem with the West Hartford budget is that its residents only intersect the budget as a product (as a completed document with which one can largely agree or disagree) – not as a process. The document suggests that WH FIRST would prefer that West Hartford residents have formative access to budget development. In order to accomplish this end, the document argues not only for a more transparent process, but for more clearly organized and complete budget information. Highlights of the WH FIRST proposal (you should read the whole two page proposal, linked below, to get a real sense of what WH FIRST is after):

  • Improved presentation of information on all town websites, and better distribution of that information (via websites, listservs, etc.). This includes subcommittee minutes, agenda, etc.
  • More convenient times for subcommittee meetings /workshops (enabling more public participation) and television access for those meetings/workshops.
  • More proactive efforts to make sure that any inaccurate budget information is corrected during the budgeting process.
  • More question and answer sessions before public budget hearings.
  • Improved – and more consistent – disclosure of all personnel costs.
  • Evaluation of all town expenditures toward the goal of efficiency and sustainability.

Take a gander at the whole thing here (it’s a .pdf, and it’s two pages, so just download the doc already) and let your other web denizens know what you think. To me, it seems both reasonable and moderate. I guess the next step is to transform it into a checklist and to see what improvements we see in this year’s budget process.

Here’s to the dialog, etc.

Posted in Budget, Local Democracy, West Hartford | 17 Comments »

$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 »

West Hartford Referendum Results Part Deux, The Live Blog

Posted by whforums on October 7, 2008

Polls close in two minutes. We’ll be doing a quasi-live blog (updating numbers as they come in) for referendum results tonight, if you’d like to speak your mind, spew your anger, or just watch the numbers roll by (all numbers via WHC TV) …

Absentee Ballots only:

116 Yes

218 No
219 No (two ballots stuck together?)

During the first vote, absentee went 68% No. This time, only 65% No. There is a significant increase in absentee ballots cast.

One District Reporting:

Yes 161

No 377

Gotta wonder what district that is … they are some hard core No people (158-45).

Three Districts Reporting

Yes 607

No 924

5 Districts Reporting

Yes 873 1165

No 1312 1584

No vote down to 60% 57%, compared to the 66% total from the last vote. To be expected in a second referendum, I think.

Six Districts Reporting

Yes 1745

No 2345

Numbers holding … 57% to 43%.

Seven Districts Reporting

Yes 2064

No 2583

Margin keeps shrinking … the “Yes” districts must be coming in …

Nine Districts Reporting

Yes 2459

No 3177

Ten Districts Reporting

Yes 2655

No 3649

Scratch what I was saying about the vote getting closer!

Fourteen Districts Reporting

Yes 3566

No 4867

Yes is close to its 3700 total from the last vote (7074-3700).

Fifteen Districts Reporting

Yes 3625

No 5046

Sixteen Districts Reporting

Yes 3971

No 5317

Watching the debate on CNN. Their live tracking graph thingy is more interesting than what the candidates have to say …

Eighteen Districts Reporting

Yes 4230

No 5664

Numbers still running about 57% to 43% …

Unofficial Results, All Districts:

Yes 4844

No 6152

I’ll post more analysis tomorrow afternoon, but a few quick hits:

I predicted this right — No wins, but a much closer vote (56%-44%) and a depressed turnout. (I predicted that wrong!).

Considering the crap that is the economy, this is, to me, a shockingly close result.

If No can only summon 56% against a budget in this context, it likely means re-election for the majority of our Town Council.

Posted in Budget, Live Blog, Referendum, West Hartford | Tagged: , , | 6 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 »

Guest Post: WHTA

Posted by whforums on September 26, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Guest Post: Mary Fleischli of West Hartford FIRST

Posted by whforums on September 25, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Deadline Day for Referendum Redux (Petition for Second Referendum Certified)

Posted by whforums on July 31, 2008

It’s July 31st — which, normally, would mean dog days of summer. The Town Council and Board of Ed are both mere shapes in the haze, the dog is getting shorter walks and, if I don’t take the trash out more often, it stinks.

But this July 31st is different — today is the deadline for the WHTA to collect enough signatures to force a second referendum on the budget. I haven’t heard or seen any scuttlebutt, so I suppose it would be irresponsible of me to speculate on the potential success or failure of the petition drive. UPDATE: According to a commenter, the referendum petition was certified on July 27th and the referendum is a go. Judy Aron, VP of the WHTA, has confirmed that there are indeed enough signatures for a second referendum.

So, instead, Assuming another referendum, I’m going to turn this space over to you. I’ve got three questions for everyone to answer which may begin to re-delineate the sides of the argument. Feel free to add questions and I’ll add them to the post.

Residents of West Hartford, tell us:

1.) Did you sign a petition for a second budget referendum? Why or why not?

2.) What do you think would be will be the outcome of a second referendum?

3.) Have you already made up your mind about how you’d will cast your vote on a second referendum, or can you still be persuaded?

My answers, and the answers of others across town, after the jump.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Budget, Referendum, West Hartford | Tagged: , , | 34 Comments »