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Are We Looking At Another Multi-Referendum Year?



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Town and school budgets are one of the few places an average American can decide they want to see a smaller increase, or no increase at all. With federal and state taxes, there’s no choice but to pay the bill, and for groceries, housing, utilities, etc, the only way to cut back on costs is to cut back on consumption or find a cheaper place to live.

So with costs escalating so much in the wake of the pandemic — residents are still feeling the aftereffects of inflation even though it has gone back down to normal levels, and a housing market crunch driving up rents and home prices — it is not at all surprising that Newtown residents decided to opt out of a proposed 1 mill or 3.82% tax increase, telling the Board of Education, Legislative Council, and Board of Finance to “try again.”

The real question is, how much do residents want to see that increase reduced, and how many referenda will it take to find that number? The last time the budget referendum went down, in 2013, it took three votes for voters to approve the budget. In 2012, the budget passed through five votes before passage. The town began its streak from 2014 to 2023 with the “one and done” budget that passed 2,571 to 738 on the municipal side, while the school district request passed 2,421 to 868. That budget, however, featured a zero tax increase.

Only the school’s budget will have to face voters again, since Newtown’s charter bifurcated to two budgets in 2013. The town’s proposed budget is now the town’s official budget for 2024-25.

During voting on April 23, higher turnout was an indicator that the budget might not pass and that the town’s 10-year streak of “one and done” budgets was over.

In 2023, Newtown saw increased participation at its April budget vote with a turnout of approximately 8.8 percent, the first year of increased participation after years of waning participation, especially following the COVID pandemic. In 2022, participation was only 7.7 percent; in 2021, the turnout was 8.98 percent; in 2020, there was no budget referendum due to the pandemic; in 2019, turnout was 17 percent; in 2018, turnout was 15.7 percent; and in 2017, turnout was 19.9 percent.

This year’s participation close to doubled the participation in 2023, but the results seem indicative of discontent with the proposed budget after years of relative apathy.

Even at the 2017 level, the turnout was too low for such an important decision affecting every Newtown resident, in their pocketbooks, in their property values, and in their quality of life. Obviously, maintaining services keeps quality of life high and thus property values up, while it also gives residents some say in how much they will pay in property taxes. Many residents saw some increase in their assessments and property taxes due to large increases in home values across the country last year.

So now that town officials know the will of the residents — or at least 15% of the residents — officials must figure out what kind of a cut they want to send to voters next. Whether it’s a smaller cut to weigh if voters may come out to support that, or a larger cut in the hopes of sending the budget out to as few referenda as possible is currently unknown. The Board of Finance was expected to at least discuss the referendum results at its April 25 meeting, and the Legislative Council next meets on May 1. The Board of Education next meets on May 7. The Newtown Bee will continue to update the public as events unfold.

Comments are open. Be civil.
1 comment
  1. ll says:

    Where has inflation gone back down to normal levels?

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