Thursday, April 03, 2008

Budget passes along party lines

The Council adopted the Town's budget (NHR, by Luther Turmelle) "Proposal A" by a 5-4 margin... with "Proposal B" failing by a 4-5 margin. Both votes were along party lines.

The Council unanimously adopted the budget of the Water Pollution Control Authority (WPCA = sewers).

The Council voted to adopt the Pool budget. The vote was 7-2 (Sima, White opposed). I was glad when Jimmy joined me. It was nice to have support. I'm hoping the people in town also notice his vote... he deserves credit for drawing the line and basically saying "enough is enough." We need to get serious about the pool and stop with all the "we only have one chance to get this right" hogwash. And as far as I'm concerned, asking Yankee Gas to provide more natural gas capacity is anything but getting serious about the pool. We should be conserving, not asking for more capacity to feed the bubble's insatiable energy appetite.

Anyway, back to the Town's operating budget... here is the draft of my comments, though I'm sure my precise words were different:

For the past four years that I’ve been on the Council, I’ve supported each of the annual operating budgets because I felt they were right at the time. But I can’t support this proposed budget because it’s not good enough at this moment.

I keep hearing from people in town that the cost of gas and heating oil is going thru the roof. The cost of food is hurting people. And the general uncertainty of the economy is weighing on the minds of most people.

Companies are laying people off. One company, my former Stamford-based employer: UBS, announced yesterday that it wrote-off $19billion. That's Billion with a "B."

In light of the current circumstances, the town should be tightening its belt even moreso than in the past few years… just as residents are tightening their belts and adjusting their home budgets accordingly. As one resident has said… “instead of a three week vacation, maybe you take a two week vacation this year.”

We should and could cut spending further. For instance, supporting this budget means that:

We'll be spending $750 for two calculators


We'll be spending $34,000 on seminars and conferences to a number of places, such as Lake George, Seattle and Virginia

We'll be spending $950 for reviews of the town budget and town audit. And you should know… this is not a fee for the budget or audit… this is a fee to review the budget and audit. For that fee and review, the town may win an award. But paying for an award is unnecessary and we should not ask the taxpayers to foot this bill. And...

We'll be spending $14,000 for another strategic plan.

And of course, there’s the $420,000 subsidy for our “self-supporting” pool. At a time when Senators Obama, McCain and Clinton seem to speak endlessly about energy concerns, Cheshire's pool just consumes more NG every year.

I’m not going to make a motion to amend either of the existing resolutions, but will note that if we removed the items I touched on… we could reduce spending by about .20 mills. And that spending reduction would ensure no tax increase this year. And I think that’s a commendable goal that everyone who pays for gas, heating oil or groceries would appreciate this year.

I thank Tom Ruocco for his strong efforts at producing "Proposal B." I'll be voting in favor of it.

Now as a followup... after the meeting, Laura DeCaprio was kind enough to explain to me that the $14,000 budget for the strategic plan is a bit more complicated. She said some of the money could be spent on videostreaming too.

But as far as I can tell... that's going to be "under review" for years to come. And as I've been trying to demonstrate here recently... the only way to make something happen in Town Hall is to direct the Town Manager to do something... but if you do that, you'll get accused of micromanaging the TM. Absolutely absurd, IMO... but an unfortunate reality of this majority. Besides... web video doesn't cost anything. In fact, I've been told you can even get the software for free (though I paid $40 for my software).

And just thinking now... since I've already tried emailing the Council and asking them questions (with answers to be posted here unedited), only to get no response from the majority... since it's unacceptable for the town to cut back on its junkets* around North America... I'd love to hear from Council members if their businesses have cut back on "Travel & Entertainment."

Finally, about the pool referendum... I'll try to post the text in full this weekend.

Tim White

*I normally don't use the word "junket." However, I seem to recall that particular word being used by one member of the current majority (then minority) during the '04/'05 Council discussions. At that time, he said something to the effect of "I want to give the Board of Ed this money and I don't care if they spend it on a junket to Mexico." So I think it's the perfect word for this post.


Anonymous said...

$34,000 for seminars and conferences? I am sure that somehow not attending these will destroy our schools and make us less safe? Give me a break already.....its is high time for people in this town to speak out against this stuff and in particular, we need to rid the council of Hall and Ecke in particular. Enough of these two arrogant bozo's.


Anonymous said...

I could not attend the meeting last night but I did watch it on TV. Please, can you post a video of Matt Hall chewing and talking at the beginning of the meeting. IT WAS DISGUSTING!. Can someone please tell him it's not polite to chew while you talk.

Anonymous said...

11:38 I thought the exact same thing as I watched Hall chomping away and was gross. I also thought it was quite rude of him to jump all over Sima calling him ridiculous just because he wanted to offer an ammended motion. The motion even made sense...I guess the dems don't want that extra police officer as they must not consider public safety a priority.

retired teacher said...

Well, what a suprise that the spendaholic council majority approved the most costly of budget options A, B, and C, not even pretending to hold back on spending increases.

Let me tell you about these educators' "seminars and conferences." They're all B***S***. They train the teachers in all the newest theories, and three years later that's all out the window, and we have to be retrained in yet the latest theories.

Most money spent on ed reform is just a racket for ed consultants and has no value to student learning.

Until the taxpayers vote for a fiscally responsible council, this and all the other rackets of wasteful spending will continue.

Chipmaker said...

Travel isn't cheap, and should be among the first to go in a tight fiscal environment. So it is right to critique those line items.

And, though it's a much smaller item -- $375 for a calculator? Sorry, but No -- that is ridiculous. What models are spec'd for town purchase? That's the cost of a decent refurb'd laptop of recent vintage. Calculators -- ones that do more math than the entire town of Cheshire will ever need -- are available at any electronics or department store for $25 or less. I don't have a dog in this hunt, but this line item is criminal.

Anonymous said...

The calculator that they are budgeting for must have more "Places" in anticipation of next years budget which will be over $100,000,000. That's the only reason I can come up with.

Anonymous said...

One of the coucil members said if we change the oil in our cars they will last longer or have less repairs. True, but for the Town of Cheshire newer cars bring in more tax revenue. So what's better for Cheshire?

Anonymous said...

There are over 100 towns out of 169 that have a lower mill rate than Cheshire.

Anonymous said...

Tell the town officials to get a subsciption to Travel and Leisure magazine

tim white said...

I prefer Conde Nast. But the Council majority seems to prefer XYZ Airlines.

Anonymous said...

With Mr. Sima's suggested ammendment to the motion to add back in the police officer and reduce elsewhere (creating a wash)it was interesting to note that the town manager said he'd need 10 minutes to adjust the numbers. Ms. Esty said it was unfair to ask him to do that and Mr. Hall said it was ridiculous to request Milone to make adjustments. Ten minutes didn't seem like much time to me to make a sensible change. Perhaps next year when they get those two calculators for $750 (I guess one is for Milone and the other for Mr. Jascott)the change might be able to be made in less time.
It's always an interesting show when watching council meetings.
Stay tuned to upcoming meetings as they are likely to spring that turf field on you - talk about a waste of additional money it will cost upon installation and for years to come including replacement.

tim white said...

The $375 calculators are for the tax collector.

Anonymous said...

Folks.....its time for residents to flood town hall for the next council meetingg and avery meeting thereafter and demand that these absurd and wasteful items be removed from the budget. if the majority refuses to make that change, than we need to show at every meeting thereafter, pack the house and prevent them from doing business as usual until they listen to the people of this town.

Tim White said...

8:41... also, please be nice to the Deputy Finance Director. From my dealings with town staff... he's one of the best... knows his stuff extremely well and completely professional. I believe he's a real asset to the town.

Anonymous said...

Did you here the same thing I heard at last nights budget meeting? I don't ever recall any democratic politician say the word "Conservative" over and over in such a positive manner, have you? I mean a conservative democrat, isn't that an oxymoron?

Also, everyone is concerned about the "Mill" rate. I never heard of the word until I move from NYC to CT. Back in NYC I just paid taxes and that was fine for all the amenities we had at our disposal in the greatest city in the world. I believe that one of the last mill rate adjustments went down. I believe we were paying somewhere in the low 30's, if I'm not mistaken. That's right it was when they pulled a new assessment of of their hat (you thought I was going to say something else, right?.) My house was assessed for more and the mill rate was lowered, but the bottom line is that I still paid more $$ in taxes.

That's what we need to concentrate on, the amount of $$ we pay in taxes and what we get in return for this sacrificial offering. I pay about 30% of my total household income towards the property taxes here in Cheshire, CT.

This year I will offer (for free) my services as a fiscal conservative in going through every line item in the budget and physically seeing how and why it was necessary, and offer (for free) my recommendations on saving the tax payers of Cheshire my proposed Plan "D" budget of saving 10% of the spending in this town.

I was promised by M&M (Michael Milone and Michael Ecke) unrestricted access to every expenditure in this town and I plan on using that gracious entitlement to the fullest.

I may need your help and the help of all your bloggers in this venture and I know I can count on you coming through for me for the betterment of our town's fiscal wellbeing.
Mike Rocci

Anonymous said...

Why would DeCaprio say "some of the money could be spent on videostreaming too"?
Does that mean that the other money that was approved could be spent on other things and not neccessarily on what it states in the budget?
Although I would love to have video streamlining, it concerns me when a council member states that the money that was just approved for the budget does not have to be spent the way it was dictated.

Perhaps you can look into that one too Mr. Rocci.

tim white said...

9:13 Videostreaming and the strategic plan were both initially included in one line item:

Town Council - Consultants

Videostreaming - $6,000
Planning Strategery - $14,000
total - $20,000
less: Mgr reduction - $4,000
new total - $16,000

Now... don't ask me why videostreaming would cost $6,000. It wouldn't.

As for the "manager reduction," the TM does it often and throughout the budget. I have no idea what it meant here... and frankly, just found the whole line item to be ridiculous.

Anyway, that gets us to the $16,000. And when the budget committee started making cuts, $2,000 was cut from this line item "consultants."

I assumed that bringing the $16,000 to $14,000 meant that videostreaming would no longer be discussed (particularly since there's been so much opposition to it in the first place... I figured this was just politics... pretend that we'll consider it... but then say it was defunded... so it's the fault of the budget cutters).

Thankfully, Laura clarified that for me.

The $2,000 was never stated to be an elimination of videostreaming. I just made that leap because of the dollar figures.

Beyond that though, this is typical of the non-disclosure of information.

When more budget cuts were made this past Tuesday, I asked what the $7,000 cut to public properties represented. I was told that it was yet to be determined.

IMO, the spending side of the budget had no discussion... why else would we still have Travel & Entertainment in the budget? Nope. It's purely a tax-driven decision... which is half of the equation. The other half is spending. And that's the part that gets ignored by The Rubberstampers.

Anonymous said...

Why does the Town always project lower revenues in the collection rate? By budgeting less and collecting at 100% the differnce is a lot of money. The town always gets all their taxes. If one doesn't pay they get the house, land or whatever. Why do they sell to collection agencies? They always get their $$$$. So by underestimating revenue they legally raise taxes. Why? They will have more money for next year. They have been doing this for years that's why we a have huge surplus. Wake up Cheshire and look into this. Next year we will have another surplus(they have set aside $600,000 already) while spending is never scrutinized. It's self-perpetuating.

Anonymous said...

Does she really know that much about strategic plan or is she getting info from a fellow D who has first hand knowledge?

Anonymous said...

Was there five "hearing Aids" in the town budget to give to five council members who certainly have selective hearing?

tim white said...

3:55 As far as the Town's "stategery" goes, the Chairman takes his direction from the TM. He even said so here.

Personally, I was always under the impression that the Council directs staff. But in a moment of candor... during the meeting on Thursday, we all learned differently.

Anonymous said...

When people get uptight with their responses to questions I tend to believe that they are not sure of something. My impression of some of the TC members is that they are not 100% behind their answers.