Amid cheers from local officials and residents who gathered at Newtown Middle School Tuesday evening, town polling officials revealed totals from a first round budget referendum that overwhelmingly approved both a school district and town spending package, along with debt service on capital borrowing for the 2014-15 fiscal year.
The Board of Selectmen’s municipal budget including debt service on bonding passed 2,571 to 738, while the school district request passed 2,421 to 868 Town Clerk Debbie Halstead confirmed late Wednesday.
In all, 3,320 voters cast ballots, according to polling officials, representing a 19.1 percent turnout.
Reached by phone shortly after the tallies were announced, Legislative Council Chair Mary Ann Jacob reacted similarly to her elected colleagues.
“Wow — I can’t recall a budget referendum with such a low number of No votes,” Ms Jacob said. “This is exciting. It’s so good for Newtown. This sets a good tone for the next year and bodes well for all the work we have to get done.”
Ms Jacob also expressed appreciation for all residents, town and school officials, and elected leaders who privately and publicly promoted the spending plans, and helped get out the vote.
“They showed that Newtown can do it right,” Ms Jacob said.
Board of Education Chair Debbie Leidlein said she felt the high turnout from supporters was a tribute to the yeoman’s work that Dr John Reed did in guiding the district through its post-12/14 recovery while bringing in a budget request that was nearly flat, without reducing services to students.
She also sent thanks out to the taxpayers who turned out to vote Yes.
“We can’t say enough about the support the community has shown us with their votes,” Ms Leidlein said. “We’re thrilled. Now we can focus on the kids, and we’re thrilled [Superintendent] Dr Erardi will be leading us down that path.”
At the middle school, as polling officials read off the count, First Selectman Pat Llodra, who had expressed frustration in past years as the budget failed in multiple referenda, said, “It’s been a long time.
“The message from voters was loud and clear,” she said. “We’ve got to watch taxation and meet the needs of the community.”
She also offered her thanks to the town’s voters.
“Thank you. Thank you. It’s a good budget,” Mrs Llodra said.
Before hearing the voter turnout totals Legislative Council Vice Chair Neil Chaudhary expressed concern that a lower voter turnout could have meant a failed budget.
But after hearing the tallies he said, “I’m glad to be wrong.”
Superintendent of Schools Joseph Erardi, just days on the job, was also pleased.
“I feel terrific,” he said.
Dr Erardi told The Bee that he was ready to get down to the business, but not before also crediting his predecessor.
“Before we look forward we have to look back. I think Dr Reed and the school board did extraordinary work presenting a unified budget to taxpayers, which I believe was respected by this overwhelming Yes vote,” Dr Erardi said. “Dr Reed has created a path for me to move forward. Most importantly, I think this was a resounding endorsement for a hopeful and new beginning for Newtown’s schools.”
Ms Leidlein said she believes the cooperation among all town officials helped carry the day.
“We wanted to make sure the total package passed today,” the school board chair said. “It makes it more difficult when you have a bifurcated budget, but the proposals put forth by both the town and the school district were ones Newtown could embrace, and they showed support through their vote.”
Ms Leidlein also said she is looking forward to the town and district moving forward together and collaboratively in the future, and she was looking forward to launching both an enrollment and facilities study that would inform budget deliberations in the months to come.
The 2014 referendum also marked the second time local ballot questions were offered, asking if each respective proposal was "too low."
A total of 985 voters said yes regarding the school district request, while 2,158 said no. A total of 578 voters said yes regarding the selectmen's budget, with 2,561 responding in the negative.
The No vote count on Question 3 was corrected, the official percentage of voter turnout, and the ballot question responses were added to this report after it was initially published.