Writing as a resident of Chatfield Farms, one of Beacon Fall’s 55+ communities, I feel compelled to respond to some of the negative perceptions held by a few people in our town and to correct some errors from previous letter writers. To begin, First Selectman Susan Cable asked for recommendations from residents where cuts could be made to the budget. After research and discussions, residents at Chatfield, who were following the budget process, concurred there were four areas where the budget could be changed without serious impact to the town.
Our preferred remedy was having town residents pay for their trash collection – one move that would save approximately $300,000 and fix the current budget problem. While some believe the reason the 55+ communities want to eliminate trash collection is because we already pay for it, and that’s not an insignificant reason, the actual reasons are threefold. First, it was the cleanest, single cut that would get the town through its current financial dilemma. It was painful watching the Board of Selectmen and Board of Finance go through the budget line by line shaving $1,000 here and $2,000 there. Cuts to kid’s athletic programs and tax relief for the indigent elderly were on the table. Next, after calling all towns in Connecticut with populations under 10,000, we learned that in well over 90 percent of these small towns’ residents paid for their trash collection. Finally, after inquiring about rates charged by nearby private trash collection companies, we found some offering rates less than what Beacon Falls is paying. Looking at it another way, many residents would actually realize a small savings because the cost of paying for their own trash collection would be less than the increase in their personal property taxes.
Our second recommendation was the elimination of the town nurse position. Again, after calling around to many towns in our geographic proximity, we could not find any towns which still had a paid nurse. Further, we could not get data on the town nurse’s job description nor an accounting of her weekly tasks such as patients seen, times and lengths of appointments, and non-medical assistance. We were told HIPPA laws precluded disclosing such information.
Our third recommendation was to force the town’s unions to the table to get concessions. We have been falsely accused of simply wanting to layoff union employees, which isn’t true. What we want is for the unions’ pay, benefits and productivity to be more closely aligned with the private sector. Ultimately it will be decisions made by the unions themselves which determine if layoffs occur. Unless things have changed recently, we were told the unions were stalling negotiations using letter writing as a delaying tactic rather than agreeing to face-to-face meetings with town leaders.
Our fourth and final recommendation was to reduce the $44,000 increase to the town’s police budget. I repeat, the recommendation was to reduce the increase. Still again we went outside Beacon Falls to find comparisons. While it isn’t an apples-to-apples comparison because all towns are unique, and there is some dispute over the numbers, we learned in neighboring Bethany there are two police vehicles and two to four full and part-time police personnel compared to Beacon Falls’ six police vehicles and 10-11 full and part-time police personnel. While the populations are similar in size, Bethany is geographically larger with more miles of roads to patrol. There may be other reasons, but the only explanation we were offered for the increase was part-time officers hadn’t had a raise in three years. We believe there is room to optimize police operations without sacrificing public safety.
In closing I’d like to say that we in the 55+ communities have always been good citizens and neighbors. We pay more than our fair share of taxes and consume few town resources, we volunteer in the community, and we ask only that the town live within its means. Many of us are also struggling due to living on fixed pensions, social security which hasn’t had a cost of living increase in three years, and savings and homes that are greatly reduced in value due to the prolonged recession. Those who demagogue seniors who offer constructive criticism and/or potential solutions to the town’s problems with which they don’t agree do nothing to help their town and instead create a generational divide which is counterproductive.