Mixed reviews on budget from town meeting attendees
By Jason Rowe
VERNON - The annual town meeting came and went quickly and quietly Tuesday evening with only three members of the public choosing to speak about the town's proposed $71.94 million budget for 2006-07.
With the meeting completed, the spending plan now heads to a May 9 referendum, where voters will decide its fate.
The annual meeting, which is required under the town charter, allows the public to voice their opinion on the budget and ask questions of town officials.
But historically, the meetings have drawn very low crowds, and Tuesday night was no exception.
Many of those in the crowd were town department heads, on hand to answer any questions that might have been raised by townspeople.
Still, a few members of the public chose to voice their opinions on the budget, which would increase town spending 5.86 percent over the current year's $67.95 million budget.
Former Town Councilman Thomas A. DiDio, who now serves as Democratic town chairman, urged voters to participate in the May 9 referendum and support the budget.
DiDio's sentiments were echoed by Tunnel Road resident Michael Tobin, who said that after seeing how things operate in the state's 168 other towns, he feels Vernon residents are seeing their tax money spent on reliable town services.
"Our Public Works Department, I'll match against anyone. Our Police Department, I'll match against anyone," Tobin said. "I think I'm getting my money's worth."
But Vernwood Drive resident Bill Smith, a 78-year resident of the town, said people who are retired can't keep up with an increasing tax rate.
"To try and live on the budget that I have is very hard," said Smith, who has been retired for 14 years. "I say to you, please don't pass it."
Under the proposed budget, the tax rate would go from 35.79 mills to 37.75 mills, an increase of 1.96 mills, or 5.48 percent.
If voters approve the proposed budget, a homeowner with property assessed at $200,000 would pay $7,550 in property taxes during the 2006-07 fiscal year as compared to $7,158 this year - that's $392 more.
Republican Deputy Mayor Jason L. McCoy also chose to speak during the annual town meeting.
McCoy apologized to Smith for the increasing taxes, but said the vast majority of the proposed spending increase is driven by recently approved bonding and the increasing cost of energy.
"We wanted to do the best we can and not cut the services," McCoy said. "It's a budget we kind of have to support. I hope people come out and support the budget."
After the meeting, Mayor Ellen L. Marmer said she wasn't surprised by the low turnout.
Marmer said the town is trying to get more residents interested in the budget during the next couple weeks and is investigating the possibility of mailing out a budget newsletter.
Marmer and Town Administrator Laurence R. Shaffer said town officials also are available to answer questions from residents who visit or call Town Hall.
"It's up to the people now to come out and vote," Marmer said. "
©Journal Inquirer 2006