Brookfield officials held the second of two scheduled public hearings on the budget Thursday, April 15, in the high school auditorium. Of the 32 people in attendance, 18 were from the public.
The Board of Selectmen (BOS), Board of Education (BOE) and Board of Finance (BOF) put together a joint presentation defending the proposed 2010-2011 budget, presented in four parts by BOF Chairman Bill Tinsley, First Selectman Bill Davidson, BOE Chairman Mike Fenton and Superintendent Anthony Bivona. [Full presentation video and slideshow included.]
Brookfield Resident John Berger, of 63 Candlewood Shores Road, opened the public comment portion, speaking about recession and the affects of raising taxes. "There are people in this town that think the current recession has passed over Brookfield and I'm here to assure you that nothing can be further from the truth," he said. Berger also asked the boards about state reimbursements for the renovation project at the high school.
Tinsley responded that most of the state funding for the school has been received. "I don't have the exact number, but I do know that we have received most of the funds that we originally expected to receive," he said, "and when the project is closed out, our reimbursement will actually be higher than we first expected," with the remainder going toward reducing the town's debt service.
Al Hoffman, of 111 Whisconier Road, had never been to a budget hearing before, but was "impressed with the amount of work that has gone into this budget process." As a former accountant, Hoffman assured the boards that he understood the amount of effort it takes to compile a solvent budget, however he was concerned about a lack of "strategic view" in the process. "We are in a difficult period economically in this country and I'm not sure that is reflected in this budget," he asserted. Hoffman suggested utilizing more volunteers from the community as a means of keeping expenses low throughout the year.
"As a town we have to do everything that we can do to control our costs," Tinsley agreed, "Because at the end of the day the burden that we put on the taxpayers is spending."
Superintendent Bivona also mentioned that almost every classroom from Center Elementary School (CES) through to Whisconier Middle School (WMS) has at least one parent volunteer in the class regularly.
Hoffman also voiced concern over the pending reassessment of the grand list, which has to be completed by 2012 according to Connecticut State law. (A reassessment must be completed every four years.) "The list is going to get smaller, not larger," Hoffman contended, "Homes are assessed too high," and in a reassessment, the total value of Brookfield's properties will likely fall.
"We anticipate that in today's market the assessed values might go down," Tinsley allowed, however he clarified that the grand list is the standard against which the mill rate is set, so that the total amount of taxes levied and the proportion that any single household pays would not change as the result of a shrinking grand list. The mill rate may change, but the tax burden and rate will not be affected by a reassessment.
Jane Candia, of 15 Whisconier Road, wanted to know if there was "an actual schedule of when each road is going to be repaired," under the $10 million plan approved at referendum, and what impact there would be on students if the budget was not passed as-is.
Davidson took the first part, promising to post the streets on the town website before work begins and to "talk to the town engineer (Ralph Tedesco) about any other notifications we can send out" to residents living on those streets, though he stipulated that this is not standard procedure.
Superintendent Bivona fielded the second part, explaining that the district is "not looking at 30 kids [in a class], but with the enrollment projections we're looking at 21, 22 kids. Could enrollment go up? Possibly," he said, "If we have families move in this summer and enroll."
The proposed 2011 budget includes the restoration of three full-time teaching positions. "If the budget does not pass, it's likely that those positions that have been restored are not going to be here," Bivona said, "and we'll have classes of 25, 26 kids again. It would be a repetition of the situation we had this year."
Bruce Alexander, of 36 North Lake Shore Drive, said that he was "a citizen of this town and therefore a father of every child in this community. I don't have any kids in the school system," he said, "but all the kids in Brookfield are my responsibility. What are we going to do to convince the town that we really need to support our education system as well as what the board [BOF] and town administration [BOS] does?" he wanted to know, "Are there plans to really sell this budget to the town so that it passes the first time out?"
"Officially, the town cannot promote the budget," Davidson answered, "We cannot use taxpayer funds to promote or rally against an initiative. We have to be 100 percent objective, but that doesn't prevent anybody here or anybody at home from supporting this budget in any way they wish."
Selectman Howard Lasser had the last word for the evening, clarifying that, while officials cannot use town funds to promote the budget, "we as individuals and we as elected officials in this community do need to be out in the community explaining this budget."