The Borough Battle
Is a government within a government anachronistic? The Borough of Newtown encompasses just over 1,200 acres in the center of town and is inhabited by, according to the 2010 census, around 1,900 citizens. Incorporated in 1824, it is a self-governing municipality and consists of a warden (similar to a first selectman), clerk, tax collector, treasurer, counsel, zoning commission and board of appeals, a borough auditor, and six burgesses (an English parliamentary or colonial term for representative of a municipality).
The lucky residents of the Borough get to pay not only Newtown municipal taxes, but Borough taxes, as well. Last month, those residents voted down the proposed budget, seemingly at odds with what the burgesses had proposed and confused about the process of where funds are going and why. That confusion continues as a second vote draws nigh on June 6.
On one side are those who profess that a growing cash surplus in the Borough’s General Fund is excessive, there is a lack of taxpayer’s authorization for spending, and anticipated income for the coming year will add to the surplus without alleviating any current taxation of Borough residents.
On the other side are those — mainly Borough officers — who contend that General Funds of the contentious nearly $700,000 is temporary and will dip come July 1 when all expenses have been paid. An increase in wages to Borough officials will bring down that number, as well.
Borough voters express confusion over the finances and voting process. When voting residents are not clear on where their tax money is going, or when taxpayers feel they have no say in how money is spent, passing a budget seem like pie in the sky.
There does not seem to be consensus on how much money is in the Borough General Fund, why that sum is there, and how it will be allocated. A recent letter writer to The Newtown Bee, long associated with the Borough, suggests that the annual Borough growth rate for budget the past five years is five times that of the Town of Newtown.
What do Borough residents get for their extra money paid out? Traditionally, it includes proximity to the commercial center and fire protection, sidewalks, street lights, and sewers. While once these were amenities not common in other parts of town, that is less and less the case. Preservation of the historic Borough is among the top priorities of that government, and at the heart of some of the contested General Fund surplus. Worries over the possibility of legal fees should the Inn at Newtown be pegged for apartment or condominium dwellings is one reason for stockpiling a large sum, according to information provided residents.
A perceived lack of transparency threatens to divide these few citizens in setting a new budget. The upcoming vote will determine if Borough residents remain hopeful for the future or if the prestige of living there has worn thin.
Our Borough is one of only nine in Connecticut; is it time to consider making that number only eight?