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Selectman Howard Lasser's Newsletter

Selectman Lasser on the Parks, the Budget and New England Government

Parks update:

The primary purpose of this note is to pass along important information about the upcoming Town Meeting and the budget.  However, I know people are wondering after the referendum on the Parks failed, what next?  As reported in the paper, for the moment there is nothing to report.  However it would be good to hear from you and your ideas of what you would like to see happen.  Send your thoughts and ideas to howard.lasser@charter.net.  I will forward on to the other Selectmen.

Budget Update:

The Board of Finance agreed in its meeting, this past Tuesday, to send to the Town Meeting the budget as previously recommended.  This budget called for total spending of $53,734,532 and included a transfer of $400,000 of funds from a health savings fund to offset increases in insurance costs.  Because the Board of Finance voted on Tuesday to appropriate a net amount ($54,334,532), they needed to meet again last night to correct their recommendation because we are required to vote on the Gross amount.  Nothing has changed with regard to the impact on taxes. This is the same plan presented at their two public hearings.

I have summarized the budget in the attached table.

The Board of Selectmen then met last night to set the call of the Town Meeting.  The recommendation to the Town Meeting is to hold the referendum vote on Tuesday, May 18, and calls for a vote on a single question:

Shall the Town of Brookfield appropriate the sum of $53,734,532 as the Town Budget for the fiscal year commencing July 1, 1010 and ending June 30, 2011?

About the Town Meeting:

The Town Meeting will be Tuesday, May 4, at the High School at 7:30 p.m. There are two things that will happen and there are two things that MAY happen. It is important for you to attend this meeting.

The Town Meeting WILL:

  • Set the date and time of the vote, as noted above this will be Tuesday, May 18.
  • Vote on the amounts to go to referendum as specified in the Board of Finance recommendation.

The Town Meeting MAY:

  • If there are 4 percent or more of eligible voters in attendance at the meeting (approximately 400 voters), the recommendation from the Board of Finance may be amended.  In this case, individual line items may be reduced (per charter and state statute line items may not be increased).
  • By a majority of those present (the 4 percent rule does not apply), vote to alter the form of the resolution.  They may amend the resolution to split the vote into two questions, one on an amount for the town and one for education.  If the vote is split and either vote fails, neither budget is considered passed.  Before the Town can set a mill rate the entire budget must pass. 

So you can see why it is important to attend this most New England of institutions.

My point of view:

I believe this is a good budget and deserves your support.  It balances concerns about the economy with the realization that we cannot continue to underfund vital institutions or ignore maintenance of our assets without undermining public safety, education and the overall public welfare.

Key points about the budget:

The plan put forward is characterized as a "maintenance plus" budget.  That is, all effort was taken to preserve existing service levels while also addressing some vital needs.  In this regard the budget restores to the Police department funding for an officer that was eliminated two years ago.  On the schools side, there is funding for 3 additional positions to address class sizes in the second grade and for remediation support.  There are also capital investments that will bring needed efficiencies to operations that will reduce future costs.

A couple of points about the numbers, to be clear; the proposal increases the net spending about 4.1 percent from the 2010 budget.  This will result in an increase in taxes of about 3.2 percent.

Let's put this into some perspective.  These past few years spending has been held in check, the 2010 budget is less than the 2009 budget.  This was accomplished primarily through reductions in positions, freezing salaries and cuts to capital spending.  All of these actions contribute to diminished services and raise concerns about sustainability of the quality of life, not to mention property values.  This budget proposal stops the decline in our standards at a very reasonable cost.  Including this plan, the average increase in spending 2007 through 2011 would be less than 1.8 percent a year.  The tax rate for the same period has increased less than 2.5 percent a year, leaving Brookfield's taxes, on an equalized base, still among the lowest third of all towns in the state.

What Concerns am I hearing:

Economy — The number one issue this year is the economy.  Obviously, people are out of work, salaries are not keeping up and every increase in cost is a new challenge for individuals and households.  I can't tell you the economy is improving, will improve or is going to get worse.  No one can.  And depending on which channel you turn on to hear the latest you will undoubtedly hear conflicting and confusing information. I am an activist and an optimist by nature.  I believe if you do nothing you get nothing.  I believe that action moves markets and that inaction leads to complacency and atrophy.  I believe in the self-fulfilling prophecy if you think decline and doom you will get it.  In forming a strategic spending plan, we have to deal with what we know, not what we don't.  If we continue down the road of neglect and underfunding our institutions we continue the decline and decay that further diminishes the value of our properties and undermines our quality of life.

Efficiencies — Often you hear people calling to eliminate the waste in government spending, or cut out the fat or some similar declaration.  I am sure we will hear this in the coming weeks.  Everywhere, every one of us wants assurances that there is no waste in our government spending, that we are getting value for our tax dollars.  We send money to Washington or Hartford and wonder how it is spent.  We can have a greater input and more control of our local tax dollars.  If you think there is something wrong with the way we are spending or you hear someone suggest it, have them call me.  In Brookfield, I can say with great confidence that we are not wasting taxpayer funds.  Sure, if you look deep enough you might find someone paid $3.00 for a $2.00 cup of coffee.  But I am equally sure that there would be a reason for that.  Our town employees do the best they can to deliver top quality services on par with other towns with tax rates much higher than ours.  On a dollar for dollar bases, Brookfield is a bargain.

Unions — The latest bogyman of local and state budgets are the unions.  We hear of increases in contractual costs and bemoan why these "selfish" employees escape the ravages of the economy. I won't demonize unions for doing what every CEO of every corporation does, what underlies the very foundation of the free market capitalist system.  That is, acting in ones own self interest.  The fact is that union contracts tend to lag the economy.  So that although existing agreements negotiated two and three years ago call for average increases above the private sector, contracts negotiated more recently indicate a trend to much smaller increases averaging less than 1.5 percent.  The broader problem is a need to make sure these future contracts take a longer view in terms of aligning total compensation, benefits and salaries, with the long term and sustainable goals of the community.  These actions are already under consideration.  The benefits of this will be seen in future budgets.

It is important that we get out the word.  The Boards of Selectmen, Education and Finance worked cooperatively and collaboratively this year.  As such there seems to be a lack of controversy.  That should not be taken as a sense of security that this budget will pass.  We need to get out and talk to our neighbors and friends.  We need to convince them that this budget is worth their support.

At the last public hearing I mentioned that I, and I am assured that other members of the Boards, would go to any meeting of any group to discuss the budget and promote its value to the community.  If you are aware of any group, a book club, parents organization, sports club, etc. who would give 15 minutes, or however long they want, to discuss the budget and answer questions, or would like to help in getting the word out, please send me an email and let me know.

Dates to remember:

Annual Town Meeting:

Tuesday, May 4 at 7:30 p.m. at the High School

Budget Referendum:

Tuesday, May 18 6:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.

 

Thanks for reading.  See you at the Town Meeting,

Howard

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