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Town Budget Passes, School Proposal Fails By 52 Votes

The Legislative Council will be returning to deliberate once again, although this time their task will be singularly focused after the school district budget proposal failed by just 52 votes at referendum May 14.

The town side request passed by 246.

Council Chairman Jeff Capeci said that the number of voters who responded to the corresponding budget question signaled they wanted to see additional reductions. He has called a special meeting of the council at 7 pm, Wednesday, May 22 in the lower level meeting room of Town Hall South to deliberate and set a third-round school budget request.

"It's clear the (request) has to go down, but the vote was much closer today than the first time around," he told The Bee just after the final unofficial numbers were announced by the moderator.

Acting School Superintendent John Reed sounded disappointed as he repeated the margin, "...52 votes."

But Dr Reed remained confident that with such a tight difference, the third time would be the charm.

"This is evidence that a growing number of people understand that we have a lot of challenges and unknowns to face in the coming year," he said. "If we can double our efforts to help voters appreciate why the district is asking for these funds, I'm confident this trend will continue, and that we will have the support we need in the next referendum."

Dr Reed noted the substantial drop in opponents Tuesday compared to the first round vote April 23, when the school request failed by 482.

Board of Education Chairman Debbie Leidein was again disappointed, but agreed with Dr Reed that the margin of voters against the education increase had narrowed significantly.

"So I'm hopeful any reduction will reflect that difference,"Ms Leidlein said. She noted from the strong response to the budget question that the council would be faced with making another cut.

"The the voters have spoken," she added. "Now we've got our work cut out for us."

Responding to a request for comment via email, First Selectman Pat Llodra told The Bee Wednesday morning that she was pleased the Board of Selectmen budget was passed by the voters.

"It is a very lean budget and will pose challenges for us to administer well enough to meet community needs," she wrote. "We continue to seek grant support for some of the school safety costs associated with this budget and will inform the community as that process moves forward."

The first selectman said she too was disappointed that the school budget did not pass.

"The district is facing many program and new mandate requirements that absorb significant resources," she said. "I believe that excellent schools are part of what makes Newtown a special place and am concerned that the absence of financial supports will erode this quality."

Mrs Llodra also noted that many residents are, "reeling from property taxation that continues to weigh heavily on our personal and community economy."

"This is not just a Newtown problem, it is a problem of Connecticut," she said. "I believe we need to return our attention to growing our local commercial base in order to mitigate as much as possible the pressure on residential taxes."

The first selectman said Newtown has opportunities to move in that growth direction and should continue that effort immediately.

According to Democratic Registrar LeReine Frampton, 4,788 of the town's eligible voters cast budget ballots either at the Middle School Tuesday, or via absentee ballot. That represented 293 more votes than in the first round referendum.

The unofficial totals provided after polls closed were:

For the municipal budget - 2,508 Yes / 2,262 No
For the Board of Education budget - 2,355 Yes / 2,407 No

The ballot questions continued to reflect that the majority of voters believed both budgets should be reduced further, even though the town side request was endorsed.

The separate ballot questions asking if voters deemed each of the proposals “too low,” had 532 voting Yes for the municipal request and 3,387 voting No. While on the school budget side 1,046 voted yes on the ballot question with 3,515 voting No.

After deliberations April 30, the Legislative Council endorsed a second round budget request with a combined $900,000 reduction, making the new school district request $71,345,304 and the municipal request $38,904,521. The municipal side of the budget includes all previously committed debt service costs for all town and school capital projects equaling $10,058,924.

That amount will now carry forward as the authorized spending amount for the 2013-14 municipal  budget.

The council action made the bottom line on the second-round request $110,249,825, representing a 3.87 percent increase in spending over the current year.

This report was updated May 15 adding comments from the first selectman, and again on May 20 to announce a special council budget meeting.

Comments

Did this factor in

I wonder if the Sandy Hook Panel's recommendation to tear down and build a new school had anything to do with the vote outcome. The Friday before the referendum the panel recommended spending $42 - $47 million on a new school (yes they are hoping for 100% reimbursement and not the standard 80%). Maybe some of the voters were scared off. I don't know if it would be honest to have held the panels recommendation. The BOE said they need a final cost by June 6. the budget needs to be explained better.

Wasting our time

You politicians act like our time is valueless. Like showing up over and over and over at the polls is fun for us or something. You should have imposed on you a rule that if the whole budget doesn't pass after 3 tries, you are all thrown out of office and we start with a new group. I think that would help to focus your minds better.

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