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‘Not The Way To Govern’



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To The Editor:

Facts should be first, but Mr Gaston [see The Newtown Bee Letter Hive, May 3, 2019] avoids the central fact that there is a large and growing cash surplus in the Borough’s General Fund account — $614,586 (with two months to go in the fiscal year) as of the latest Treasurer’s Report. He suggests that the Borough’s $76,000 certificate of deposit is actually its Reserve Fund — which begs the question of what the remaining cash surplus in its General Fund is for. Since we now know that the excess cash isn’t a Reserve Fund or a capital improvement fund for sidewalks (there is a specific line item in the current budget proposal for that), what is it? The Borough again fails to provide a reasonable and succinct explanation as to why the Borough needs this money more than its taxpayers.

If the Borough is hoarding funds to fight a possible affordable housing proposal by way of the Borough Historic District, then the issue is simple — whether the historic district’s authority prevails over the state’s affordable housing policy. The issue is one of law that can be resolved in a single motion for summary judgment — hardly an effort that would cost over a half-million dollars — even from a top law firm.

If the Borough charter’s language means what Mr Gaston suggests, he is free to do anything he wants with regard to its finances, unbound by state constraints. Will the Borough shift surplus General Funds to the $76,000 Reserve Fund to be spent on Sugar Street sidewalks? Taxpayers usually have a say in such capital projects — they do in the town, where they are part of the budget. Spending a year’s worth of taxes on Sugar Street sidewalks — leading to ...? Where is the need, the planning, the state permit, the authorization from the taxpayers? Sugar Street sidewalks are not part of the Plan of Conservation and Development, the guiding document for Newtown’s growth, the joint Town-Borough sidewalk plan, the current or proposed budget or a known capital improvement plan. Taxpayers deserve the opportunity to balance, for themselves, that supposed need against other priorities and the opportunity to vote for or against it. The Borough seems merely to be looking for a way to spend money that it would otherwise have to return to its taxpayers in order to justify its hoarding of excessive amounts of taxpayer cash.

Mr. Gaston invites me to explain why, in my 30-plus years as the Borough’s attorney, I never raised an issue about the surplus. If the Borough were to waive its right to my confidentiality, I would be glad to recap what I told Borough officials about those funds over the years.

It’s concerning that this kind of information has had to be dragged out of the Borough. It only comes piecemeal and only in bits seemed sufficient to fend off some immediate question or criticism. That’s not the way to govern.

Don Mitchell

8 Budd Drive, Newtown        May 8, 2019

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