A growing number of elected leaders representing the Legislative Council, and the Boards of Education, Selectmen, and Finance are calling for taxpayers to turn out April 22 and vote Yes on both the town and school district budget requests.
Even Newtown’s new School Superintendent Joseph V. Erardi, Jr., stepped up after just two days on the job requesting residents get out the vote — although he stopped short of suggesting how to vote since he was not involved in formulating the district’s proposal.
The current school district budget request was administered by recently departed Interim Superintendent John Reed, who requested taxpayer support of the spending plan during the weeks leading up to Dr Erardi’s arrival.
Voters will cast bifurcated, or split town and school, budget ballots by absentee vote now, or in person April 22 at Newtown Middle School between 6 am and 8 pm. Absentee ballots are available for the referendum during office hours Monday through Friday, 8 am to 4:30 pm at the town clerk’s office.
The town clerk is offering a special session on Saturday, April 19, from 9 am to noon, for the sole purpose of absentee ballot voting for those who cannot vote in person next Tuesday.
On April 2, the council endorsed sending a request for $111,066,204 to voters to cover town and school services, along with annual debt service for capital projects, which is carried in the Board of Selectmen budget.
While the approved budget request represents a 0.91 percent increase in spending above the current year, because of updated revenue projections, the spending plan requires 0.02 percent less in taxation than the current operating budget — and will require a 2014-15 tax rate of 33.31 mills, representing no change, or what is commonly termed “zero increase.”
Those added revenues included $562,000 in grand list growth, $275,000 in additional supplemental motor vehicle taxes, and $152,000 in unanticipated or previously unbudgeted state grants and payments.
Voters will decide on separate requests by the Board of Education for $71,345,304 (0.42 percent increase), and the Board of Selectmen for $39,720,900 (1.78 percent increase), which includes debt service of $10,342,994 (2.8 percent increase).
As a result of a recent charter change, eligible voters will be asked to approve or reject each budget line, as well as an advisory question on whether they believe each budget request is too low.
‘Five Important Points’
First Selectman Pat Llodra released a statement to The Newtown Bee reiterating that the proposed spending plan for fiscal year 2014-2015 is conservative, has no tax increase, and meets the needs of the community at a level that allows for some very small improvements.
“There are five important points to be made,” Mrs Llodra said. “The [school board] and Superintendents Reed and Erardi advocate for this budget and state their conviction that it will serve the educational needs of our students; the fund for senior tax abatement has been increased by $150,000; the capital road account has been increased by $200,000; additional money will be added to the reserve fund for medical benefits; and additional school security is funded in the Board of Selectmen’s budget with the creation of nine new school security officer positions.
“All of this is possible with no tax increase,” Mrs Llodra said, “because the responsible boards acted with due diligence, respect for the plight of taxpayers, and with increased efficiencies and cost-effectiveness. Vote Yes.”
Several other officials have joined Legislative Council Chair Mary Ann Jacob sitting for brief advocacy video messages that will be posted on The Newtown Bee’s YouTube channel. Ms Jacob posted her video last week because she planned to be out of town during school break.
School board Chair Debbie Leidlein said in her message that the vote is very important for the entire community.
“We know the education budget created by Dr Reed is a very smart budget,” she said, adding that it is a plan that addresses both current students’ needs as well as the significant drop in enrollment the district has been experiencing in recent years.
Ms Leidlein said her board scrutinized the spending plan, and that it is a fiscally responsible budget request.
“It’s supported emphatically by both Dr Reed and Dr Erardi,” she added. “We really hope the community comes out to support this budget on the very first vote so we can continue to move forward once that budget is secured.”
Council Reps Support
Veteran Councilman Dan Amaral said he believes this year’s proposal is a “good budget.”
“I just wish the same will hold true to next year,” he said. “Let’s hope it does pass — I think it will.”
Council Colleague Robert Merola said this year’s budget development process was one of the “most cooperative and collaborative I’ve ever seen.”
“I thought the budget was reasonable on both sides, reasonable, rational and most importantly responsible,” he added. “Taxes are basically flat, which we haven’t seen in a long time. In fact, the mill rate went down about one-hundredth of a point.”
School board newcomer Michelle Ku also sat for a budget message, sharing her insight from her term on the Charter Revision Commission that recommended a bifurcated budget process. In doing their research she said commissioners learned that the way to get good budgets passed is for elected and administrative officials to work together.
“That’s what allows a community to put forth a good budget,” Ms Ku said. “Since I have lived in Newtown, this has been the best year in terms of elected officials having those respectful conversations, yet asking really tough questions.”
Council Vice Chair Neil Chaudhary said he considers both the town and school requests “excellent budgets.”
“They are lean, result in a zero increase to the public, while at the same time providing an increase for school security, road construction, senior tax relief, increases the employee [self-funded] health plan [fund balance], and provides for special education increases…something that is needed,” Mr Chaudhary said. “And it does this all without increasing our taxes.”
Acknowledging that the proposals are not perfect, and that some hoped to see more funding for education, the council official noted, “We can’t let perfect stand in the way of excellent.”
Finance board Chairman John Kortze has stated his support for the plan during various presentations he made on the budget requests since his board unanimously endorsed the proposal in mid-March.
He explained why he was motivated to support the proposals in a recommendation to the council in his own brief video as well.
Wanting his voice to be heard, Dr Erardi also sat for a brief budget message calling for every qualified voter to turn out at the polls April 22.
“Exercise that right, and be informed,” Dr Erardi said. “Take it from a superintendent that has been here all of six days — be an informed voter, and make sure when the day is done you’ve had the opportunity to be in the ballot box.”