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At May 7 'Advocacy' Forum-Officials Invite Taxpayer Budget Questions



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At May 7 ‘Advocacy’ Forum—

Officials Invite Taxpayer Budget Questions

By John Voket

Elected town leaders hoping to show a united front of advocacy for the second round municipal budget invite residents to ask or submit their questions about the spending plan at a one-hour forum scheduled for 6:30 pm, Monday, May 7.

That forum will be held in the council chambers at Newtown Municipal Center ahead of the regularly scheduled Board of Selectman meeting.

The first round budget failed by 607 votes April 24, the largest margin since 2003, and many officials who have chosen to participate Monday evening believe residents need to have any questions they may have about the revised proposal answered, in hopes of tilting the majority of votes in the second round referendum to the positive.

That second-round referendum is set for Tuesday, May 15, when polls at Newtown Middle School will be open from 6 am to 8 pm. Absentee ballots for that next budget vote are available now at the town clerk’s office, and a special Saturday session for absentee balloting is set for May 12 from 9 am to noon.

The second budget request reflects a $1 million reduction made to the school district proposal by the Legislative Council after the first round rejection. The revised request of $106,806,523, if passed May 15, will result in a tax rate of 24.6 mills and a 1.28 percent increase over the current budget.

That request would still provide a 0.57 percent increase to the school district over the current year’s budget. The council opted to not reduce the town-side budget, which currently reflects a 0.43 percent increase.

The May 7 forum will be moderated by Newtown Bee Editor Curtiss Clark. Mr Clark said he was happy to participate in the one-hour activity which is designed to ensure taxpayers’ questions about the proposed 2012-13 budget are answered.

“I hope anyone with lingering questions about the budget proposal submits those questions so the town officials may address them May 7,” Mr Clark said. Anyone with questions may e-mail them to editor@thebee.com with the words “Budget Question” in the subject line.

Live Twitter Coverage

Taxpayers may also hand deliver questions in writing, or mail them to the editor in time for them to be received Monday, May 7. The cutoff to submit questions in person or by e-mail will be noon on May 7. Anyone following “thenewtownbee” on Twitter will be able to follow the forum tweets live, as they are posted from the forum beginning at 6:30 that evening.

A video of the forum will also be available to view through the town website, and through the local public access channel. An audio transcript of that forum and a link to the video coverage will be posted at newtownbee.com following the event.

The officials who will address the questions are First Selectman Pat Llodra, Council Chairman Jeff Capeci, Board of Education Chair Debbie Leidlein, and Board of Finance Chairman John Kortze. Each is planning to speak to key budget concerns they have been hearing following the failed vote, as well as to respond to questions posted by taxpayers.

Mrs Llodra told The Bee that the officials who are committed to attending the forum are doing so to “present a strong and united front of advocacy, and to address any unanswered questions to hopefully persuade them to support the second round proposal.”

“Any further cuts could begin to do real harm to education and town services,” Mrs Llodra said. Speaking during a May 2 council meeting, the first selectman said, “I’m very concerned that we pass this budget. Our core values as a community are at stake here.”

Ms Leidlein said she wants to provide taxpayers with as much information as they require to understand and support the current request.

“We’ve been dealing with a of issues, particularly about why costs are up and student enrollment is down, and there are a lot of concerns in the community about transportation,” Ms Leidlein said. “I’ll be speaking to those issues and anything else concerning our taxpayers.”

Happy To Clarify

Mr Kortze agreed saying he would be happy to clarify how budget reductions taken by his board might affect the overall spending plan.

“Out of the $3.2 million in reductions taken since the district budget proposal was made to the Board of Education, the Board of Finance made the smallest reduction, and the Board of Finance and the council have no line item authority over the school district budget,” Mr Kortze said of the $700,000 reduction his board made to the requested increase. “We just referenced commodity savings that [school officials] agreed would not impact student services.”

The finance chair said if asked, he would speak to the rationale behind the $400,000 budgeted to shore up the municipal fund balance in response to bond rating agency observations that Newtown’s fund is lower than it should be in comparison to other similarly rated communities.

Mr Capeci said he hopes any outstanding questions or concerns can be addressed at the forum, “so people can feel comfortable about voting for the budget.”

Mr Capeci said anyone who has questions, who cannot make the forum, may contact him directly or any member of the council for a direct response. And for those who failed to vote in the failed referendum, Mr Capeci said they need to consider coming out on May 15. “They have to consider what might happen if this budget doesn’t pass,” he said.

Besides further reductions, both major bond rating agencies have repeatedly cited the failure to pass a budget as grounds for downgrading a municipal bond rating, or posting a negative outlook. Both occurrences could result in taxpayers having to pay significantly more in interest to borrow for capital or emergency projects.

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