Smart Growth for Vernon, CT
Voters shoot down budget

By Ben Rubin
Journal Inquirer
May 10, 2006

VERNON - Voters on Tuesday handed town officials an unmistakable message at the first budget referendum for next fiscal year: Cut more.

Voting totals showed a clear 2-to-1 margin against the $71.94 million 2006-07 budget - which has an increase of 5.86 percent in spending from this year's budget.

In total, 1,028 people voted in favor of the budget and 2,084 voted against it. Voter turnout was 21 percent.

"I'm just very disappointed," Mayor Ellen L. Marmer, a Democrat, said. "There was a lot of work that went into this." Both political sides supported the budget, she said.

"I am really at a loss, because certainly a zero-budget has implications for education and services," she added.

The Town Council will meet Thursday at 7 p.m. to reopen the budget, though town officials on Tuesday had no clear idea where new cuts would come from.

The next referendum is May 23.

James Hoover, president of the Vernon Taxpayers Association, said, "Taxpayers are looking for reasonable budgets with lower increase rates, that would be at least equal to inflation."

The inflation rate is hovering at about 3.3 percent.

Hoover said he was not surprised by the results of the referendum and said he's been pleased with the past referendum processes, which last year resulted in four straight referendum votes.

Marmer countered that the money used for holding all the referendums, at a cost of $8,000 to $10,000 each, could've instead been spent to pay down important services in town.
"It's just frustrating for everybody," she said.

Resident Carl Schaefer, 60, husband of Democratic Councilwoman Pauline A. Schaefer, said he voted against the budget.

"The Board of Education budget is way too high," he said. "They could reduce it by another $300,000 to $400,000, and it's done through administration."

Schaefer said the schools have "department heads over department heads and they've got to start eliminating some of these positions."

Democratic Councilman Bill Fox said, "People are just having a hard time economically, and they vote their pocketbooks, but they have to realize we're under the same constraints that they are."

Roughly 90 percent of the budget increase was due to "skyrocketing" energy costs and town salaries, Marmer said.

Republican Councilman Daniel E. Anderson said he was not surprised by the vote and said he voted against the budget in the council, thinking it was too high.

Andrew Bifolck, 18, said his entire family came out to vote against the budget. He said taxes were hiked too high, and that money wasn't being appropriated effectively. He asked, if the government can't properly spend what it already has, why give it more?

The constant referendums, he said, "show the lack of confidence people in Vernon have in Marmer's administration."

Marmer said such a claim was not appropriate and was incorrect, especially because in past years she's put together a budget with a council majority of either Democrats or Republicans, and the results from citizens has been the same.

"This is not my budget. This is our budget, the community's budget," Marmer said. "And my driving force has been and continues to be community first."

Resident Ian Schlein, 34, was in the minority who voted for the budget. He said he didn't want to see important services and education get cut in a second round.

"I figured rather than send it back to continue to get chopped up, I figured it'd be a good idea to vote for it," he said.

A town-run exit poll on the budget showed - the same as the vote - how many people were against the budget. On the municipal side of the budget, 1,220 people responded that the budget was too high, 479 said it was just right, and 75 said it was too low.

On the Board of Education side, 1,053 people said the budget was too high, while 454 said it was just right, and 245 said it was too low.

©Journal Inquirer 2006