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Finance Board Reduces Tax Increase .5 Points for Second Vote

Proposed mill rate drops from 20.04 to 19.94.

The Board of Finance (BOF) met Tuesday night, May 17, to adjust the 2011-12 budget proposal after that the education portion of failed to pass by a majority of voters. The revised budget proposal, set to be voted on Saturday, May 28, reduces the appropriation request by $150,000, from $55,464,000 to $55,314,000.

The changes reduce the spending increase year-over-year from 3.11 percent to 2.85 percent and the tax rate increase from 2.9 percent to 2.4 percent. The lower tax rate is achieved through the $150,000 reduction in the spending request and $110,000 in new revenues to be realized through the state budget.

The unanimous consensus of the board was to leave the municipal side of the budget alone, as that portion passed the first referendum by 106 votes. (Both the municipal and education budgets must pass in the same referendum before either is approved.)

“The voters said, ‘We’re OK with this one,’” BOF Vice Chairman Bob Belden said of the town budget. “Not overwhelmingly — it wasn’t dramatic — but in fact it passed.”

After some discussion of potential cuts to the municipal budget, the BOF moved unanimously not to alter it.

Turning toward the other components of the budget, First Selectman Bill Davidson asked the board to consider “two things, in my perception the voters were telling us: the education budget is too high and taxes are too high — but they don’t necessarily have a one-to-one relationship.”

“I think we do need to have some consideration to the revenue side,” he said, as “the education cut that I have in mind does not get us to the tax rate that I would like to get to.”

With the state budget signed by Gov. Dannel Malloy, the town is expecting an additional $110,000 through the Manufacturing PILOT (Payment In Lieu Of Taxes), restored to the state budget before it was approved. (A Connecticut law, designed to stimulate industry, prohibits municipalities from taxing manufacturing properties, however the state reimburses towns through the PILOT program. Funding for the program was removed from the budget originally proposed by Malloy, however it was reinstated after an outcry from municipal leaders.)

The PILOT revenues were not included in the “uncertain revenues” cited in early budget discussions and represent a new revenue source for the 2011-12 fiscal year.

Davidson suggested that the BOF cut $100,000 from the education budget and that the overall reduction to the tax rate could be supplemented by the unexpected revenues.

“$100,000 is reasonable and I think it’s responsive to the vote we got,” BOF member Ron Jaffe said, noting that the narrow margin of defeat on the education side (nine votes) “was a statistic tie in terms of the actual vote.”

“My rationale is that it’s responsive and that I have absolute faith that the Board of Ed will deal with it in a responsible manner,” he added.

“We have a vote that is very, very close and we’ve received a lot of written correspondence and we’ve heard a lot of speakers and the input that we’re getting is very, very far apart,” Tinsley said. “The input that we’re getting seems to be ‘don’t make any changes whatsoever,’ put it back the same way and on the other hand the input has been predominantly ‘freeze the budget,’ same as last year. That difference is a whole lot more than $100,000.”

Tinsley suggested the board consider reducing education funding by $500,000, effectively freezing salary increases for teaching staff district wide. He suggested three ways in which salaries could be controlled to adjust for that reduction.

“There are three levers,” he explained, “A pay freeze — which would have to include concessions from the unions — some degree of unpaid furlough leaves — I’m not sure if that’s allowable under contract —and the third lever is how many teachers we have.”

The board members all agreed that the first two “levers” were unlikely or not applicable and that the size of the staff would be the only place to cut costs.

“You’re talking about eight or nine teachers,” Tinsley said.

“I think we as a group need to realize we have 1,800 people who voted against this budget and 1,800 people who voted for this budget,” Belden said. “We do have a very vocal group who are very concentrated on tax rate, for good reasons, and a very vocal group who concentrates on the schools… We need to take the action for those who are very sensitive to tax rate but not destroy the services that we have,” namely the school system.

That said, Belden suggested reducing the education budget by $150,000 to $250,000, “Something that’s bearable but not something that goes after the services.”

Board members Jerry Friedrich and Secretary Irv Agard had similar ranges in mind.

“We need to take a cut out of the education side,” Agard agreed, suggesting between $100,000 and $200,000, “enough to be more than a token.”

After motions to submit the education budget unchanged and to reduce it by $500,000 failed to gain a second, Belden made a motion to reduce it by $150,000, which was seconded by Agard. The motion passed four to two, with Tinsley dissenting because the reduction was not large enough and BOF member Jennifer Tomaino rejecting any cuts to the education budget.

“We were anticipating it would be somewhere in this range — $100,000 to $150,000,” Superintendent Anthony Bivona said after the decision. “We will deliberate tomorrow,” at the Board of Education (BOE) meeting (7 p.m. in the Brookfield High School media center), however the cuts will likely result in cuts to the staff.

“Almost certainly yes,” BOE Chairman Ray DiStephan said of the possibility of layoffs. “Barring some unforeseen or unpredictable circumstance, this is going to be headcount.”

“The board members were absolutely correct,” DiStephan noted, “The two sides are between people who want the budget we proposed and people who want a flat tax rate. But the notion that there’s an extravagant school budget is erroneous,” he said, “We’re between a rock and a hard place.”

The $55.3 million budget proposal will go to referendum Saturday, May 28, in two questions: $19,164,000 for municipal operations and debt service and $36,150,000 for education. Polls will be open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. and absentee ballots are available in the Town Clerk’s Office starting Wednesday, May 18 [see attached form].

Rob Gianazza May 18, 2011 at 08:09 PM
I'd rather commend the bargaining units that did step up. (In no particular order) I'd like to acknowledge the Custodians, Nurses, Paraprofessionals and Secretaries. And to answer your direct question, the BEA (Brookfield Education Association) and the BAA (Brookfield Administrators Association) declined our invitation to open their existing contracts.
Rob Gianazza May 18, 2011 at 08:14 PM
You are correct. Mr. Colley is working on it. We hope to have it resolved shortly. Thank you for following up.
Longtime Brookfield resident May 18, 2011 at 08:16 PM
Nice job to those unions who did step up - Please accept my sincere thanks - Where can i find out who is included in the BEA and BAA unions to see what these jobs entail
laura May 18, 2011 at 08:20 PM
I agree Susan. And just because we voted yes, it doesn't mean that we want our taxes to go up. But more than 25 kids in a second grade class is too many.
Play Nice in The Sand Box May 18, 2011 at 08:37 PM
Actually some pretty civil discussion and presentation of information with some good questions and answers. Hey, who would have ever guessed, we in Brookfield could rise above the name calling and unsupported accusations. GO Brookfield, whatever side of this flipped coin YOU land on.
Rob Gianazza May 18, 2011 at 09:12 PM
The Brookfield Education Association represents the teachers. The Brookfield Administrators Association represents the principals, vice-principals, and 40% of each of the department heads. (60% of each of the department heads are part of the BEA) To be fair, each of the bargaining units except the custodians bargaining unit came to the table when their contracts expired. The custodians came to the table before their contract expired and again when it expired. The BAA and BEA contracts span three years and have not come due. Additionally, by state statute, the BEA was required to negotiate their contract a full year before its' expiration. Both the BAA and BEA were under no obligation to accept our invitation to re-open negotiations.
Longtime Brookfield resident May 18, 2011 at 09:15 PM
Rob- Understood - what are the % increases in the the contracts that you could not reopen and when are they due for renegiotiations
Rob Gianazza May 18, 2011 at 10:08 PM
I'm gonna answer that one with a hook. Watch the meeting tonight and we'll discuss it. Honestly, I try not to answer questions I'm not sure of the answer. Teacher negotiations will begin this Fall for the 2012-2013 and forward contract. I don't recall all the percentages for either contract and I'm not sure when the Administrators contract comes up.
Gregory Beck May 19, 2011 at 12:45 AM
I only wonder how many of the letters that the BOF received to send the budget back as is to referendum did not come out and vote. Now that they see their childrens school budget in jeopardy they must voice their opinion.
Steven DeVaux May 19, 2011 at 12:48 AM
Kudo's Mr. Beck. Mr. Belden completely ignored cutting 100k additional in spending due to the state windfall. That consideration never dawned on anyone at the table last night except for Bill Tinsley. He understands that freezing spending at this years level is a reasonable request considering there are no raises, nor jobs as house after house is being foreclosed on in Brookfield (currently 60 foreclosures are on the market out of the 155 listings). Freezing spending is reasonable and more than justifiable. What is surprising is what litle consideration they gave Brookfield's 16,000 residents. In the most dire economic times with huge hardship, they offered to trim spending $10.67 for each resident. Do the math. An insult to those suffering and voting no. They can hear Eddie Cantor signing "Buddy Can You Spare A Dime" and have no compassion for their fellow man. It's like throwing washers in a blind man's cup.
Steven DeVaux May 19, 2011 at 12:52 AM
Brookfield's referendum is a spending referedum. People do not vote on a mil rate. The discussion is not one of revenues, but of spending.
Steven DeVaux May 19, 2011 at 12:59 AM
I agree with you long time resident. They are spending six figures plus on prosecuting one of Brookfield's most beloved teachers and you don't see a reduction in their budget next year, do you? Even more, they have budgeted salaries for teachers AND substitutes. They count on teachers going out on unpaid leaves to USE THAT MONEY to do other things as they see fit since the substitutes are budgeted for separately. Double dipping (or "vacancy" as they like to call it fattens the budget in salaries where it's "sacrosink". Shame on them. People are losing their homes all over Brookfield and they do that?
Ray DiStephan May 19, 2011 at 03:10 AM
Tad, I will only say this for your consideration. I can understand your view and I respect that this is your position. But please understand that there are unions in CT - whether you agree with their existence or not, we must play by the rules that exist. If you vote the budget down 20 times, there will still be unions and still be binding contracts. As I has been said, you don't need to agree with the law, but you must obey the law.
Better in Brookfield? May 19, 2011 at 05:20 AM
Yeah, those unions... Greedy scoundrels. You clearly vote on the right- where they give tax breaks to millionaires and billionaires. Find me union workers that fit that bill.
Lena Green May 19, 2011 at 05:23 AM
I have been following this discussion for a while now and as a parent of a high schooler I am not particularly thrilled about the idea of students spending even more time on the computers than they already do. I have yet to see a viable plan for how I Pads will improve instruction, how the I Pad initiative will be assessed, and how data will be collected to demonstrate its effect. Additionally, with new technology there is always a need for "teaching" teachers how to use them since students already know how - at a cost to the tax payers. Also, it is my belief that the proposed BHS media teacher was created as a new position because of the need for instructing students in the use of technology and how to perform Internet searches i.e. to support the use of I Pad instruction (only my opinion) - another proposed cost to the tax payers. Why do we need to create new positions in the high school, when we still have large class sizes at HHES? I would hope that by the time students arrive at BHS they should all be proficient at use of Internet considering these children have been around it since they entered Kindergarten. Also, isn’t there a cost associated with repairs of these? Who is going to be tech support for teachers and students? Yes, this year there is no additional cost to tax payers due to savings but what about subsequent years?
Better in Brookfield? May 19, 2011 at 05:23 AM
To add to what Rob said... Cutting these positions means laying people off completely in most cases. So maybe you can't go out to eat, but at least you wouldn't be losing your job like these people would.
Lena Green May 19, 2011 at 05:23 AM
I would prefer keeping teachers at the elementary levels since research shows that the earlier students get support with the 3 Rs, the better. Literature states that what matters in education is the TEACHER. That’s what makes the difference in a child becoming a lifelong learner.
Rob Gianazza May 19, 2011 at 12:15 PM
I need to offer an apology and correction to what I stated yesterday. The BAA, Brookfield Administrators Association did take a zero percent increase in the first year of their new contract followed by minimal increases the following two years. In addition they also made significant increases in their healthcare contributions. My bad.
Longtime Brookfield resident May 19, 2011 at 12:38 PM
I am a little confused about the IPADS again - Reading the following " He said the administrators in the school district were committed to adding a second media-library specialist at BHS to help launch a state-of-the-art Internet studies program that would include supplying each freshman with an iPad and providing instruction on how to do research on the Internet and utilize proper etiquette in digital communications." Again what EXACTLY is the deal we have with the copier company ? Also if the copier company is making this much money off of us then maybe we need another copier company unless thye are donating these out of the goodness of their hearts - either that or we a a big FAT account for them at HIGH profit margin which allows them to be this generous- NO ONE gives ANYTHING for FREE ,and what is the REAL cost of Media Library Specialist? I would assume 50k in salary ? Again to me this is a NICETY/WANT which is far from a NEED -
Ray DiStephan May 19, 2011 at 01:16 PM
Hello again LBR, I will try to answer the last part of your question first, if that is OK. The Library Media Specialist is actually a position that will serve many roles. The primary interest in having this position goes back to the investment the town made in the new media center during the HS renovation. A video production center was part of that addition and a class is offered in BHS in this area of study. However, due to staffing restraints we have many, many more students who want to take the video production class than we are able to offer. So this beautiful production studio sits empty at times during the day when it could be utilized for a class that students want. The course is deeply enriched with 21st century technology. The new media specialist would be teaching two additional sections of this course. The specialist would also be critical in helping students and teachers - all students and teachers - not just 9th graders with iPads, urtilize technology in their lessons and in their learning. This person would be one of the technology experts on site, not unlike similar roles that can be found in private companies. But it is more than that too as this person covers teaching two classes as well. Finally, this would be the point person in developing the iPad program for the freshmen class. That is the third role he/she would perform. Without this person, the iPad initiative would be difficult to make a complete success. (continued)
Ray DiStephan May 19, 2011 at 01:16 PM
As to the other question about the technology/copier contract, I can’t speak in great detail about it since I don’t know or remember the fine print details. What I do remember is that the current contract was considered to be very reasonable and that the interest for the vendor to help provide iPads was a win-win scenario. I am certain that you could call Mr. Colley at the business office and that he would be happy to give you the details that you are looking for: (203)775-7629 colleya@brookfieldps.org While I don’t know these answers verbatim, I do remember that I was very satisfied with the explanations of the hows, whys, and what-ifs in this initiative. I think it is highly creative, innovative and responsible of the district to try to move forward. Ray
JLM May 19, 2011 at 02:10 PM
Now, I am confused about the IPADS: Obviously, Brookfield is not paying full retail price for an IPAD and is getting a deal from the supplier. From what it was explained at the budget meeting, if an IPAD is say $540.00 per student and the price of books is at least $540.00 & higher & books get outdated ; why not get the IPAD which will be cheaper in the end than buying all the students the books they will per year. While the IPAD program is by all means a nice luxury; the numbers also say it makes sense. This kind of technology is a sign of the times, there 2 year olds that can work an IPAD. I say stop complaining about a new program that makes financial sense. Heck, in Auburn, Maine all incoming kindergarteners will be getting a new IPAD!
Longtime Brookfield resident May 19, 2011 at 02:22 PM
Thats why we are asking questions to see if it makes sense - however I for one would rather keep a teacher than have the IPADS if that was the choice - Believe me I am all for creative ways to get better technology at NO cost - Think thats great , but like I have stated Niceties and NEEDS are what we are looking at and most of all the town needs to be convinced this is all good spending or ALL will be lost to another NO vote - So I am happy for Auburn Maine kindergarten but we need to make Brookfield feel comfortable - Heck I need to feel comfortable to change my NO vote to a YES vote so we can all move forward.
Idaho Admiral May 19, 2011 at 10:15 PM
The headline for this article is not clear - even misleading? What does ".5 points" mean? We vote on spending - this should be the focus of the headline. A $150,000 reduction in spending (on a $56million budget) is only two tenths of one percent. A $150,000 reduction in spending (on a $1.7 million increase in spending proposal) is only a 9 % reduction to the increase. Or said another way, 91% of the proposed spending increase will be on the next referendum ballot. If the message of the "no" votes was "no increase in spending", then the message wasn't heard.
Steven DeVaux May 19, 2011 at 10:44 PM
Actually, in effect, the Brookfield Board of Finance voted to take another weeks worth of groceries for a family of four and in it's place they gave the NO voters a Twinkie every three months as a consolation. FACTS FOLKS. VOTE NO and freeze the budget spending at this years levels. It's fair to both sides. There is no cut and there is no increase. That's the result of the vote on the first referendum. The NO voters supported reducing spending back to 2008 levels. A budget Freeze is a budget compromise.
Play Nice in The Sand Box May 19, 2011 at 11:33 PM
"The NO voters supported reducing spending back to 2008 levels." Wow!!! how did you "know" that is what the NO voters said. I voted NO and I don't recall voting for anything that said I supported reducing spending back to 2008 levels.
Steven DeVaux May 20, 2011 at 01:18 AM
You are correct. I misspoke. I and a number of people I spoke with and emailed with supported that. Not all the No voters. Mea culpa. They do have money in the salaries in the budget that they never will spend though, still. That is what they submitted to the voters in both the first and second referendums.
Steven DeVaux May 20, 2011 at 01:21 AM
Aaron, This article's headline is seriously misleading as to our communities process. The mill rate is not set until AFTER the budgets pass by the board of finance. The referendum is on spending only, and not it's sources of funding (local taxes, state grants, federal grants, gifts, etc.)
Play Nice in The Sand Box May 20, 2011 at 04:05 AM
Steven - you do have a point regarding how salaries relate to a budget (other article). I actually have some experience re: budgeting and budget controls -- not in a school environment -- but maybe some of the same principles would apply. Additionally, since I don't have a clue how Brookfield BOE manages the salary line item, they may already have these cost controls in place. The couple of companies that I worked at that handled financial management responsiblities well - budgeted the salary line item during the first iteration of the budget. In those salary budgets, the "slack" (in place of the word "slush fund") would occur when we had family leave situations and when an open position included an estimate for the salary and hire date. Obviously, the accuracy of these estimates determines the amount of "slack". After the initial iteration of the budget, upside (or slack) from salary savings were claculated and factored into the salary forecast by financial management for the remainder of the budget cycle. HOWEVER, that "slack" was never redistributed within that Divisions cost budget . In other words, Division heads were still responsible to deliver cost containment for all non-salary line items and accountable for FTE for their salary costs. If that is what you are talking about, I think the most important thing is to maintain a consistent method for budgeting salary from year to year.
Steven DeVaux May 20, 2011 at 11:25 AM
When actual salaries underrun budgeted salaries every year, it's a telltale sign that the control, if in place is falling dramatically. They should present exactly, by name, lane, step how they developed the salary budget. That's public information. They haven't and won't unlike BoE's from the 1990's and early 2000's who published the salary schedule during the budget process and showed it. If they are, and I can't see how with the size differences between actual salary and budget at the end of each year, then the controls they have in place are failing and can't be relied on to give accurate information on the largest expense line in their budget. The old adage of "trust me, the numbers are right, they're the professionals" doesn't fly when the analysis proves otherwise. And they shouldn't require FOI's to hold off analysis until after the budget passes. People need to be given the right numbers to vote on, and in my opinion, have not been.

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