To the editor,
On March 11, 2013, the Board of Selectmen approved a 2013-2014 proposed municipal budget by a 2-1 vote and forwarded the document to the Board of Finance for review, adjustments, comments and to set up a public hearing. This budget was what the Board of Selectmen felt was needed to run the town at its current level of service. But the third selectman took issue with the proposed first selectman salary increase. He stated this was his only objection to the budget, and that Beacon Falls should fall into line with similar towns, citing Woodbury. I agree, and I encourage you to research compensation packages for first selectmen.
The Board of Finance has met with department heads and has had four meetings, two lasting over three and a half hours, and still has not come to a consensus of what the document should include or not include, or when to bring it to the public. A small but very vocal portion of the public has made it loud and clear that the proposed compensation package for the newly-elected first selectman is unacceptable and the entire budget is, as one put it, “the worst budget ever presented” and hard cuts must be made.
After hearing the outcry at three lengthy budget workshops, I slashed the budget line by line, and presented a revised budget with cuts that, although unpleasant, do not affect basic town services. The cuts totaled $388,077, resulting in a 2.2 percent municipal budget increase. These cuts were spread across the entire budget; the Board of Finance has yet to take action.
Board of Finance Chairman James Huk has taken a very different approach to the budget process; this new approach has delayed the process and could cost the taxpayers additional funds even before the public hearing is held. Four administrations and numerous Boards of Finance chairpersons before him (many with MBAs and extensive budgeting backgrounds) have followed consistent procedures with much success over the years. As a previous chairman and member of the Board of Finance, I have never seen this board so divided. This year, I have watched it devolve into a political instrument.
Further irony (or hypocrisy, take your pick): The public hearing for the Region 16 education budget was attended by approximately 30 people, the bulk of whom were Region 16 employees. Although many of the same people who adamantly opposed the municipal budget were present, Board of Education members included, none seemed to oppose this 4.1 percent or $588,031 increase. Only two people spoke regarding the increase, Mayor Bob Chatfield and I.
Beacon Falls’ taxpayers must realize that 70 percent of your tax dollars go to Region 16; this is the largest impact on your tax bill. When the residents demanded cuts from the municipal budget, I only wished they had demanded the same of Region 16. Just as the Boards of Selectmen and Finance are accountable for the municipal budget, please hold the Board of Education members just as accountable.
The Region 16 vote will be held May 6, 2013, by paper ballot at Long River Middle School, and I encourage all to attend and vote.
Gerard F. Smith