Thursday, March 30, 2006
Wednesday, March 29, 2006
Three departments came in tonight: Economic Development, Library and Education.
The Econ Dev department was fairly status quo. Aside from the proposed budget though, there was a suggestion of the town doing a survey of local businesses at some point in the future. I think this could be a good idea, but wasn't quite sure why we would need to do that. Doesn't Sheldon Dill (The Chamber) do that? He IS a one man survey. I mean, he certainly seems to know everything that's happening in town. Ha. Kidding! Although I think he is doing a really good job, but this... this is different. This would be a formal survey. Anyway, it's not in the budget... but may be something worth considering in the future.
The ED Coordinator, Jerry Sitko, also discussed the work of some of the town boards that he works with: ED Commission, Energy Commission, Beautification Committee and the Historic District Commission. He mentioned that Beautification is considering doing something with the barrels around town and the HDC has all sorts of events going on. (EDC and Energy have both been mentioned recently, elsewhere on my blog.)
The Library went next. They had all sorts of new ideas. The one that jumped out at me as being the most visible would be the addition of Sunday hours. The other thing that I felt was important were the efficiencies and cost-savings that our new Library Director has found. And there were several mentioned. That's always good to hear. The library even found a new benefactor... someone who visits this blog! (Feel free to name yourself, but I thought it best to leave you anonymous, unless you say otherwise.)
And finally, Education. There was quite a bit of discussion here, although not too many people at the meeting. Healthcare costs were of interest, although this specific item will have its own meeting next week. The other item that got discussed a bit was energy. A few people commented on this. My basic focus was the usual: conserving energy and clean energy. I didn't ask for specific feedback, but floated some cost-saving ideas, such as: 1) adjust the calendar, move the April vacation or Teacher Development days to Jan and save energy; 2) centralize the use of school facilities in the evening, thereby reducing both energy and staff costs; 3) use Park & Rec staff, instead of maintenance staff... they cost less... and as a former P&R employee who opened and closed schools at night, I know this job is not real complicated; 4) switch our school buses to biofuel, the Energy Commission began investigating this option this past Monday... we may be able to do it at no additional cost and it could be good for both the environment and for kids with asthma; 5) create an operational trust fund, similar to the medical trust fund; 6) invest money in replacing inefficient equipment, particularly in the cafeterias, such as refrigerators; and 7) I think I suggested some other ideas... they don't come to mind now, but... my main point this evening was...
The lack of transparency in our school system. I believe my words were "There is a severe lack of transparency in the school budget... and until there is transparency in the budget... and until we hold the elected members of our Board of Education to account... there's really not much point in having much of any discussion (about the budget) because as I've publicly explained... based on my experience... I can't figure out where these (budget) numbers come from. The Board of Ed is doing a disservice to our children, to the voters and to the Superintendent of Schools." I'm not even going to get into explaining this right now. The list is too long and I'm going to bed in a few minutes.
Talking about transparency, sadly, I felt the discussion bordered on humorous when one resident started asking questions about where money gets spent and why money gets shifted from account to account by the BOE. And to me, there seemed to be no real answer. And I can't quote the discussion verbatim, but during this discussion, this thought came to mind...
If the Town has a budget of $20,000,000 and ends up with a surplus of $1,500,000 (estimated), then how does the Board have a budget of $50,000,000 and end up with a surplus of $0? (That's only an estimate... but it's based on history... something that the Board never seems to use when producing their budget. They seem to prefer using the prior year's budget and adding 5%, rather than looking at actual expenditures to create their new budget.)
In fairness, there are significant differences in the way the two bodies are funded. And if the state offers additional funding, the money comes to the town, not the schools. But seriously... the Board of Ed never has a surplus at the end of the year. Why?
On a different topic... there was also an Alcohol Awareness Forum in Town Hall tonight. And it was filmed. So hopefully that will be on Channel 14 this weekend. I didn't go to the meeting, but I strongly urge people to watch it. (Teenage alcohol and drug use relate to my concerns with the lack of transparency in our schools.)
Town Council, Budget Committee
Tuesday, March 28, 2006
We had a Council meeting tonight. It was billed as a joint meeting with the Planning & Zoning Commission, Water Pollution Control Authority and Economic Development Commission (sorry if I forgot anyone!) The general idea was to help the Town get its hands around the future of the town, including particularly the intersection of development and sewers. (I can't kid you and say this was a particularly exciting meeting, but it did have its interesting moments.)
Discussing the inaccuracies of the State's Plan of Development and Conservation, hearing from Chairs or representatives from each of the Town Boards, listening to developers concerns and also to concerns of residents were all valuable. And, of course, town staff participated.
Overall, the meeting was worthwhile. And as Patti Flynn Harris (PZC Chair) suggested, this should be the beginning of the process. To have one meeting on such an expansive and far-reaching (both in distance and time) issue won't cut it.
Town Council, 4th District
Labels: council mtg
Monday, March 27, 2006
Tonight's budget meeting was probably the most interesting so far. But it wasn't because of The Pool or because of proposed increases in spending (again, most depts are status quo + wage & fuel cost increases). Rather it was because of Mixville. But that's not where the meeting started....
Youth & Social Services asked for about 400hrs/yr for a Dodd-aged social worker (or something along those lines). I believe the cost on that was $8,000. Senior Services asked for another 5hr/wk to be added to their program coordinator (I think that's the title). One reason for the increased hours is to ensure staff coverage of the Senior Center at all times. I believe that can be difficult to do at certain times. Park & Rec asked for $10,000 for an adaptive program called Camp Nerden. This is not a request for an increase in services. Rather, this is a request to fund a program that has been in use for the past ten years. Thing is, normally towns donate to the Camp, but this hasn't been happening in Cheshire's case.
Then the big draw for the evening... Mixville. The primary concern was the lack of lifeguards, but there were other concerns... public safety, geese (& their droppings) and a general feeling that the park is neglected. I know that much of this sentiment is set against a backdrop of the pool (which with a proposed subsidy of $416,000, is difficult for many people to accept that lifeguards at Mixville are too expensive). It seems to me that we ought to be able to get some lifeguards at Mixville at least on the weekends. If a lifeguard costs $10/hr and is there 5 hrs/day on Sat & Sun for 12 weeks... just as an example... the cost would be $1,200. Anyway... that's something that I think the Council needs to consider. I'm not sure how we can stop the geese though from leaving their mark all over the beach.
The Pool went pretty smoothly. Not many people showed up for it. What interested me the most was the total number of "pool user days." (I think that's the number of people who have entered the pool on a given day... so some people could be counted up to 365 times.) I believe the year on year comparison was 21,000 user days thru Feb '05 for last year, compared to 36,000 user days thru Feb '06 for this year. It was a nice number to hear. But ya know what??... $416,000. It's still too much money. And it's going in the wrong direction... with energy costs on the rise, it's growing, not shrinking. A possible increase in fees was discussed. And I think P&R recommended an increase be put into effect immediately.
We rounded out the night with the Town Council, Town Manager and Town Attorney budget. I got a chuckle when the comment was made that the Town Council was the only department with no "key performance indicators." ha. The only item that caught my attention in this whole thing was a modest increase within the Council budget (~$40,000). It was related to televising meetings. And as far as I'm concerned, every penny we spend on this is well worth it. I can't imagine a better way for everyone in town to know exactly what is going on in town. And the truth is... a lot of people really do watch channel 14.
Anyway... that's it for now.
Town Council, Budget Committee
Not only was today the first time I actually saw a Civic Hybrid on the road, I also got a call from the Honda dealership (I went to the one in Shelton, where I enjoyed avoiding the oh-so-annoying hardsell)... they said it should be delivered in three weeks! I'm pretty psyched about it. And for a quick recap on why I bought a Civic hybrid:
Why spend the extra $6k? ($16k regular vs. $22k) Was it just a feel good thing? In part, but the investment should pay off in the long run. The savings include:
1) $2100 federal tax credit (http://www.aceee.org/transportation/hybtaxcred.htm)
2) $1000 state sales tax exemption on hybrids that get over 40mpg (http://www.eere.energy.gov/afdc/progs/view_ind.cgi?afdc/5758/0) ($16k x 6% = $1000) and
3) $2000 savings in gas (about an extra 10mpg) over five years(https://www.fueleconomy.gov/mpg/MPG.do?action=calcMPG)
Town Council, 4th District
Wednesday, March 22, 2006
BUDGET WORKSHOPS continued this evening. On the docket were Finance/Admin, Building Inspection, Police/Animal Control and the Fire Dept. Again, most of the budget line items were fairly status quo + wage increases.
The few changes were 1) Finance requesting an increase in the number of hours for one staff position from 19 to 25 hours/week. However, with respect to costs, this is not only a 30% increase in hours. The normal town policy calls for employees below 20hrs/wk to receive no benefits. (20-25hrs/wk receive 25% of bene's paid for by the town.) And town employees working 25hrs/wk to receive 50% of their benefits paid for by the town. So when any position jumps to 20hrs/wk or more, the town starts paying benefits. 2) Building Inspection didn't ask for anything that I recall. However they did mention their purchase of a hybrid truck... which is saving on fuel. And we all know how ridiculously high those prices are right now. I was back up to $36 today to fill my tank! 3) Police/Animal Control gave a good presentation. It was all done by Acting Police Chief Michael Cruess. And particularly in light of the circumstances in which he finds himself, I think he did a really good job. I'm not sure on the total hour or position increases requested (many positions are often shared by multiple people) and need to follow up on that. But I believe the Police were asking for increased hours/staff, largely due to 1) increased Homeland Security requirements, 2) ability to let staff focus on a particular job (rather than jumping from answering 911 calls to running to Staples to buy a new computer cord) and 3) other benefits, such as greater flexibility with staffing. And Animal Control had its own special moment. Two youngsters, Daniel Byrd and Katrina Matz, each spoke on behalf of the Animal Control budget. I think it takes a lot of courage for anyone to stand up and be heard, but considering their age... it was a truly special moment. And finally 4) Fire Department discussed its budget. The most notable item for me was hearing that Cheshire is indeed in the running for the statewide (or regional??) firefighting training facility. This could be great for the town not only because it allows our FD to train locally, but the town would also get some additional revenue (PILOT or Payment In Lieu Of Tax) from the state.
Well, I think those are pretty much the highlights for tonight's meeting. Oh... and several dept's are also asking for vehicle replacements. And if you're unaware, the town does keep a replacement schedule for its 150 or so vehicles. So for the most part, I think the vehicle replacements make sense. For the budget meeting schedule, go to: http://www.cheshirect.org/towngovernment/council.html. And for another take on the meeting: http://www.record-journal.com/articles/2006/03/23/news/news08.txt
And one final note, there will be a townwide ALCOHOL AWARENESS MEETING held next Wednesday, March 29 @ 6:30pm in Town Hall. I believe this meeting has already been endorsed by both the Youth Services and Human Services Committees. If you are available, I hope you consider going. I think it could be worthwhile. (I may not be able to make it, as we have another budget meeting that night.) For more info: http://www.cheshirect.org/youthsocial/files/495A5947F4484DDEB8AF032D017541EA.pdf
Town Council, Budget Committee (and Human Services Liaison)
Monday, March 20, 2006
Several departments were discussed at tonight's budget meeting... Elections/Registrar, Town Clerk, Planning and Public Works (Water Pollution Control Dept, Public Properties & general PW). I think for the most part, the requested budgets were simply maintaining services.
Registrar's wants new voting machines for a few reasons. The Town Clerk wants to add one summertime position to help with seasonal work (such as dog licenses, I think). Planning wants to get involved with some new software which has clear demonstrable benefits... of course, every benefit comes with a cost.... And the final piece of the pie tonight was Public Works. That was the most interesting discussion for me.
Sewer use fees were again discussed. And while it was not an in-depth discussion, issues such as watering lawns and washing cars were addressed.
Apparently half the towns (with sewer systems) in CT already employ a consumption-based fee. And at least some base their fees on averages that are drawn from the nine non-summer months of the year. It's a fairly simple approach. But it may address some of the concerns that were mentioned in my previous post. Again though, this is a WPCA issue. They decide if this is considered and they don't report to the Council.
And if you're curious about the upcoming budget meetings: http://www.cheshirect.org/towngovernment/council.html
Town Council, Budget Committee
Wednesday, March 15, 2006
Is a sewer use fee on the way? I sure hope so. At tonight's first budget committee workshop, the Water Pollution Control Department budget was discussed, including... the possible exploration of changing the current "flat rate to one that is based on water consumption...." (Michael Milone, Cheshire Town Manager, as proposed in his 06/07 budget).
A user fee that is related to consumption makes more sense to me than the flat rate that we currently use. And here's the article in today's Herald (http://www.cheshireherald.com/NC/0/311.html)
Town Council, Budget Committee
Labels: town government
Tuesday, March 14, 2006
THE POOL: This evening the Council requested our Park & Rec Commission to draft a Request for Proposal (RFP) for a pool consultant. Basically, the consultant is supposed to evaluate and analyze various aspects of the pool... infrastructure, revenues, expenses, etc. I supported the motion because the proposed pool budget subsidy ($416,000) for 06/07 is too high. (Doing an RFP is not authorization to spend money.) I said that all options should be on the table, including, but not limited to:
1) outright closing of the pool (at times such as January and February when a large portion of the pool's expenses are incurred due to sky-high heating costs);
2) offering someone a long-term lease (for something simple, such as $1/year with the agreement that they would keep all profits or incur all losses); and
3) some other options that may help reduce the operating subsidy.
My point is simple: there are a lot of other great ways that the $416,000 operating subsidy could benefit the townspeople and we need to consider all options.
And for some recent articles on the pool, visit: http://www.cheshireherald.com/NC/0/308.html and http://www.record-journal.com/articles/2006/03/15/news/news05.txt and an editorial http://www.record-journal.com/articles/2006/03/24/opinion/1sun2.txt
And on the topic of saving money... thinking in terms of energy... how about the schools adjust their schedules? Move the April vacation to January (make Christmas vacation two weeks, instead of one). Or even expand Christmas vacation to several weeks? Then basically close the schools and turn down the heat during some of the most expensive heating weeks of the year. Knowing that the BOE is averse to such concepts as reducing spending, perhaps the Board would at least consider focusing taxpayer dollars on teachers and textbooks, rather than exorbinant heating bills?
THE TURF: I'm not positive about this, but my understanding is that this has gone through the committee process in Hartford and is now proposed as a school construction grant. If this is true, then the grant would pay for 38% (or so) of the total cost. So for discussion purposes, if we stick with the $850,000 cost that has been bandied-about (although I've heard numbers both higher and lower), then someone (besides the CT taxpayer) would still need to come up with over $500,000. I wonder who would foot that bill?
Town Council, 4th District
Friday, March 10, 2006
Hot off the presses... the Town Manager’s proposed budget:
Tax increase = 3.75% (1 mill)
Spending increase = 5.09%
05/06 budget = $84.0million (adopted)
06/07 budget = $88.2million (proposed)
Both the 5% spending increase and the 3.75% tax increase concern me. However, this is a starting point. The real key is reducing spending. But I think keeping a tax increase below 3.0% would be a step in the right direction. Anyone know what the social security increase was this year? And for a bit more analysis of the budget, check out this week's Herald (http://www.cheshireherald.com/NC/0/301.html) or Saturday's Waterbury paper (http://www.rep-am.com/story.php?id=3985).
Town Council, Budget Committee
FRIDAY MARCH 10: I'M POSTING REPLIES FOR THE PAST WEEK. SORRY, BEEN BUSY.
Thursday, March 09, 2006
Energy continues to be in the headlines. It made the front page of two newspapers today. First, it was in the Herald in relation to the pool bubble (http://www.cheshireherald.com/NC/0/303.html).
The town’s Energy Commission, Parks & Rec Commission, members of the Town Council and a State Representative are talking about the pool… and it’s sky high energy costs. But what I find most interesting in this article is not indicated in the headline. It’s farther into the article where it is noted that Town Manager Michael “Milone said a consultant will help answer questions the Council has about what is the best route to take with the pool.” (Cheshire Herald, Kristen Malinowski, March 9, 2006). VERY interesting.
For anyone who catches this, I bet they’ll be talking about it in the barber shops and coffee shops around town this weekend. And if you’re interested in learning more, both P&R (including Mixville) and the Pool will be discussed at the March 27 (6pm) budget workshop.
Like many people, whenever I hear the word “consultant” I cringe (although, like those same people, I also cringe when I hear the word “politician” LOL), but in all seriousness with the recommended pool budget subsidy north of $400,000, I think we have to consider all options. Comments from any bloggers on this?
Then there’s today’s Waterbury paper discussing both “alternative fuels” and “energy conservation” (http://www.rep-am.com/story.php?id=3934). (Obviously, I liked this article. Thanks Mike.) But what I think is really important is increasing awareness of our options. Only yesterday I learned that there may soon be federal grant money made available directly to towns (no state pass thru) for “alternative fuel” station construction costs. Coupling this with grant money for new school buses and, to me, the writing is on the wall (see http://timwhitelistens.blogspot.com/2006/02/alternative-fuel-station.html). We need to investigate the possibilities. Cheshire could move away from its dependence on dirty, fossil fuels and toward a new day in which America is clean and energy independent (not caught up in any Middle Eastern“entangling alliances”).
Town Council, Energy Commission Liaison
Sunday, March 05, 2006
I've heard from several knowledgable sources (with opposing views) and I'm still trying to get my hands around this, but in the meantime... does anyone have any opinions on this proposal? So far I've heard from a few people in town, basically opposed to its elimination. I haven't done much research on this yet (and intend to do so), but thought that these links may prove useful in understanding how this proposal could (in its current form) impact Cheshire: http://www.rep-am.com/story.php?id=3884
Thursday, March 02, 2006
The Energy Commission met this past Monday. The usual host of items were on the agenda: energy management (such as turbines at CHS and the pool), clean energy and increasing public awareness of both. (Btw, there's a really good article in the Herald this week about the Energy Commission's hard efforts over the past couple of years to save both energy and money. Definitely check this out: LINK DISCONTINUED)
Specific items discussed at the meeting:
1) There was a bit more discussion about the Bethany/Cheshire clean energy competition. So that is still moving forward. The current idea is "the winning town is the first town with 3% of households using clean energy." Cheshire has 9500 housholds or so. Bethany has about 2300.
2) (If you're a parent, you may already know...) Our schools are having some serious heating problems... both Norton and the CHS library have had serious problems recently. But considering that proper fixes cost mucho dinero and take time to implement, hopefully with winter's official end in less than three weeks, we'll soon have warmer weather at hand and have the summer to address these problems appropriately.
3) The pool was an item of discussion. State Rep. Mary Fritz recently suggested to the Council that it put a hardtop (a building) over the pool. She indicated that she may be able to get some state funding... for recreational purposes... similar to the possible funding for the artificial turf. (http://www.cga.ct.gov/2002/olrdata/env/rpt/2002-R-0198.htm see "special act grants") The Commission's concern was primarily the energy bills related to the pool. And if you hadn't heard this one... the analogy I heard was that the bubble is the equivalent of a one-pane window. Could you imagine your home heating bill if your house was entirely made of a one-pane window? The most interesting thing here though was that this discussion led to a broad discussion on "how do we improve the pool?" And part of the answer was a dialogue with Park & Rec. And from what I understand... Park & Rec was talking about the pool last night. So the Energy Commission is talking about it, the P&R Commission is talking about it... I'm wondering... could there be something afoot here??
Well... if there is, I think it's good. We've got to do something. We need to try to move the pool closer to being self-sustaining... and it's nowhere near there now.
4) The town joining the "Energy Star" program was another topic. The basic ideas are to save money & energy and to increase awareness of energy-saving opportunities. (http://www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?c=government.bus_government)
The Energy Commission normally meets the last Monday of every month at 7pm in Town Hall. For more information on the Energy Commission, see: http://www.cheshirect.org/energy/default.html
For details on various federal tax credits that may be available to you, see: http://www.doe.gov/taxbreaks.htm
For details on the state sales tax holiday that applies to certain home weatherization products, see: http://www.ct.gov/drs/cwp/view.asp?A=1514&Q=307396
To sign up for clean energy, go to:
Town Council, Energy Commission Liaison